Jean-Marc Valleé’s follow up to the Oscar-nominated Dallas Buyers Club may not reach the same levels of cinematic grandeur, but Wild still offers a more modest story, a more relatable character, and a similarly career making performance.
This is the story of the appropriately named Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon), whose life has taken several turns for the worse. Cheryl is struggling to face up to a family loss whilst also dealing with her own personal demons. In a brave, if reckless act of escape, she decides to embark on the Pacific Crest Trail – 2,663 mile route from the Mexican to the Canadian Border.
As Cheryl’s journey progresses she becomes something of a celebrity on the trail due to her gender, and her apt literary quotes she jots down at checkpoints along the way. This little character quirk verges on the cheesy, but Witherspoon pulls it off well. Cheryl is a character that cares desperately what people think of her. Yes, these are all meaningful excerpts to her (and as I mentioned jolly apt) but it seems she is hopeful that they will have this effect on her trail mates.
The structure of the film is reminiscent of Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours in its alternating between the present, out in the wilderness, and it’s past. Valleé often cuts from a moment in the present that has poignancy, to the relevant memory, putting us in the mindset of Cheryl. This is effective, if a well-worn technique for such stories. In terms of story and tone, Into the Wild, is the obvious comparison, both films exploring ideas of solitude, nature, and regret in heavy measures.
The camera work is obvious but effective, plenty of wide frame, panning shots, of what is undoubtedly stunning scenery. This immersive bit of storytelling takes the viewer through scorching heat, expansive mountains, rainy days, eerie nights, mostly with the sole company of Cheryl. Witherspoon carries the film quite literally on her shoulders, her comically large backpack obvious in it’s authenticity. Her character is both charming by nature, and yet detestable in her actions. But you stay on her side throughout, if with a wry smile.
As with any story of redemption, and indeed any story adapted for the screen, clichés are never too far away, but Nick Hornby’s script retains surprising edge and the films ends up feeling tonally equal to it’s story. It won’t win Oscars but Reese Witherspoon may get a nod for the range and commitment shown in this role.
Wild will be released on January 16, 2015