In yet another film this year based on a memoir, this biopic, “WILD” by Cheryl Strayed (played by Reese Witherspoon) who coped with her divorce, the death of her mother, and her own self-destructive behavior by setting out on a grueling, three-month trek along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), which runs from Mexico to Canada. Since Hollywood tends not to deal much in too many surprises, whether its sequels, remakes/retreads of the familiar, or actors and directors staying very securely inside their comfort zones, it’s rare for a movie to sneak up and offer something unexpected and this one is no different. I truly expected more all the way around from the Director that made my favourite film of 2013, “Dallas Buyers Club”.
The other big surprise of “Wild” turns out to be Reese Witherspoon, whom after hearing such big notes that she would be going far from her usual comfort zone here, and then really didn’t. If we are looking for out of box characters for her, she was much more convincing for me in her portrayal in MUD. Don’t get me wrong..Witherspoon is far from awful here, and especially after seeing “The Good Lie” earlier this year and that lackluster performance, just not the WOW! performance I was hearing it to be as touted by some.
We meet Cheryl at the very beginning of her undertaking of this gargantuan hike. Here you would think it’s the sort of journey taken only by hikers with experience, but as we see all of Cheryl’s camping gear coming fresh out of the package, it’s immediately clear that she’s plunging head-first into this huge undertaking with no prep whatsoever as she has no clue what she really should & shouldn’t be taking along. Barely able to support her comically oversized backpack, we follow along as she begins to shed both literal and metaphorical baggage. Cheryl stumbles and struggles through the first few days of her hike, allowing her plenty of time for flashbacks. And that’s really how you find out why she is undertaking this venture because at the beginning you are given no hint as to WHY she is doing so.
Her mother “Bobbi” (Laura Dern, in a nice moving turn here) was a source of strength, and even in the quick-flash of remembered moments we can see why her loss would be so devastating to Cheryl. Less attention is given to her failed marriage to “Paul” (Thomas Sadoski), but it’s clear that she was in no place emotionally to handle guiding her own life, much less sharing it with someone else. Though she has a brother also, “Leif” (Keene McRae), she seems the be the one with some major problems in life including being a heroin/sex addict and all around mess.
I think I was just hoping for more here as the movie delves into the easy answers and personal growth waters of ‘Eat Pray Love’ vs. what I had hoped for, more of a harder core. I was looking for some major challenges ala ‘127 hours’ to happen beyond losing her shoes or encounters with a rattlesnake & a caterpillar, both expected considering where she is..a desert. Same with the visuals..There are only a few rare scenery shots here, as well yes, I understand we are in a desert with just a lot of flat land & bushes, but it does change seasons, can be beautiful and I thought there would be some really scenic visuals.
For me, the best part of the story lies in all the characters she meets along the way. I found this part of it the most fascinating. Having undertaken a journey of my own at one point (I packed up my car and drove across the U.S. one summer, stopping randomly in places and meeting people everywhere I went..loved it), though no, not hiking as it’s something I’ve never been fond of, that & sleeping in tents, (yeah I know..picky picky)..but characters such as “Frank” (W. Earl Brown) & his wife “Annette” (Jan Hoag), “Greg” (Kevin Rankin) & his friends, “Ed” (Cliff De Young), the only other female hiker she encounters along the way, the “Ranger” (Brian Van Holt) and the group of guys she gets drunk with round the ol’ campfire, “Josh” (Will Cuddy), “Rick” (Leigh Parker) & “Ritchie” (Nick Eversman). My ending point is that I think a lot of people have done a journey of some type or another in their lives and sorry but I guess I’ve just heard much more fascinating stories than this one.
(see grading scale)