‘Wild’ uses the oft-used motif of ‘the journey’. Reality TV and Hollywood films are obsessed with this story device with the hoped for ‘emotional voyage’ hooking viewers. Sometimes this works as you come to know characters, while other times it descends proceedings into a barrage of manipulative clichés. ‘Wild’ mostly escapes the latter’s fate. Based on Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, it is an engaging look at dealing with grief and confronting past mistakes.
Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) was at a cross-roads. Dealing with the death of her mother Barbara (Laura Dern) and recent divorce, she wondered where to go next. Wanting isolation to think things over, she embarked on a thousand mile hike across the Pacific Crest Trail. An arduous journey, the people and harsh landscapes she discovered changed her life. Tackling deeply buried personal issues, her path towards a more secure future became clearer.
Solidly directed by Jean-Marc Vallee, ‘Wild’ is very much Witherspoon’s movie. Beginning her career in light frothy roles, she has grown into a competent actor. ‘Wild’ gives her much to challenge her skills as Cheryl comes to terms with recent crises’. Walking through the rough terrain, her crowded thoughts receive a chance to be slowly released. Those she meets help her understand her actions and the relationships defining her.
Vallee efficiently handles these elements with the cinematography a massive plus. The country-side is a witness to Cheryl’s shedding of her burdens and re-construction of her life. The ‘finding yourself’ theme used to saccharine effect in other films isn’t too bad here. ‘Wild’ has a level of authenticity unlike others with Witherspoon delivering a genuinely raw performance. Cheryl is never presented as a holier than thou person, with harsh edges effectively shown.
Moving without being too sentimental, ‘Wild’ is an odyssey easy to take. Whilst the narrative occasionally meanders, it is a fine drama in grappling tough personal subjects and establishing new possibilities.
Movie Review Rating out of 10: 7
Movie Review by Patrick Moore
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