Movie Review: Wild
The thing that preoccupied me the most while watching Wild was Reese Witherspoon’s hair. She’s supposed to be hiking 1,000 miles on a trail that reaches temperatures over 100 degrees, yet not once in all of the scenes of her making this hike was her hair ever pulled back. No ponytails, no buns, not tucked inside a baseball hat. The most was a half-up half-down style held together with a barrette which made no sense for her to have on a hike like this. People need to stop talking about how Witherspoon was made to look like a real hiker, because the production still chose to show her at her prettiest hair state.
If I can get past the implausibility of her hair being down the whole time, I can say that this is a good movie. It’s not one that I’d watch again and there are some plot points that aren’t explained or explored (timing clarification is a big issue in this movie) but the movie is a well-done exploration of this woman’s journey. The basic plot follows Cheryl as she hikes the Pacific Crest Trail, interspersed with memories of her past. Witherspoon is getting a lot of press for this movie, but also of note is Laura Dern’s portrayal of Cheryl’s mother Bobbi. Dern plays this part with such honesty and heart that she made the character completely come alive.
The movie is a bummer but it’s supposed to be. It’s realistic and beautifully shot (the scenery is gorgeous), and the characters are well-done. The flashbacks are strong enough to carry most of the plot of the movie—it’s Cheryl’s past that we are interested in as viewers, and they pull us in.
Generally speaking, this isn’t my type of movie—it’s more subdued and quiet, moving at a slower pace—but for a movie that’s not usually my preference, it had me captivated.
Stars: 4 out of 5
How it compares to Reese’s other roles: Not as great as Legally Blonde’s Elle Woods; better than Melanie in Sweet Home Alabama
What not to bring to the theater: Food. A toenail is pulled off in the first scene…
It’s possible to go into Wild expecting two hours of Reese Witherspoon on the Pacific Crest Trail roughing it alone and learning lessons from the wilderness, but that isn’t the story the film is trying to tell. There are far more scenes in which our protagonist Cheryl is interacting with other people (either through flashbacks or the people she meets on her journey) and most of the impact is through these interactions. Thematically, the film is essentially about an exploration of life and the choices you make, and the journey serves as a platform for exploring those ideas.
Cheryl Strayed is possibly the most well-realized character I've seen in a film this year (and the fact that she happens to be based off of a real person isn’t the advantage you may think, as any Lifetime biopic will tell you). Her portrayal is very even-handed and generous to those around her as the film makes very clear that she is not a hero, but a person trying to prove to herself that she is not a lost cause. Reese Witherspoon is terrific as Cheryl, but the terrific writing gives her a great assist. I’m especially wary of heavy-handedness in a film with this sort of subject matter, but Wild deftly sidesteps those pitfalls. Only once in the film was there a scene that felt like the filmmakers might be trying to manipulate me into feeling an emotion, but this was at the end of Strayed’s 1,200-mile journey, at which anyone would be so emotionally fragile that it would be impossible not to project meaning onto everything you come across.
Though I appreciate many of the visual and storytelling decisions the filmmakers made, my biggest criticism of the film is the lack of clarity with Strayed’s narrative. Because the flashbacks are told out of chronological order, it was often difficult to piece together some very important information for contextualizing her journey. For example, it was made very unclear how long she had stopped using heroin before she embarked on her journey, how much training, if any, she had done, or how long she been divorced from her husband. All of these details could have been implemented in a natural way and would help us to better understand Sheryl and the significance of her journey.
Regardless, Wild is an impressive and powerful film and one that makes me excited to see what director Jean-Marc Vallée does next.
How does it compare to other Reese Witherspoon films?
Worse than: Election
Better than: Everything else