Told in flashbacks and directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club), Wild tells the true story of Strayed’s 1995 solo trek along 1,100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. An inexperienced hiker whose life is in a drug-fuelled spiral after the death of her beloved mother (Laura Dern) and subsequent divorce from her husband (The Newsroom’s Thomas Sadoski), Cheryl decides the best way to rediscover the woman she was meant to be is to strap on the world’s biggest, most overstuffed knapsack and walk out into the wilderness. Alone. Until she’s done.
Not surprisingly, the journey becomes more important than the destination as Cheryl collects life lessons and healing salves with every step she takes, every setback she endures and each epiphany she experiences – from the perils of too much gear to the cringe-inducing opening scene that demonstrates why buying boots in the right size is über-important on this kind of adventure.
Witherspoon does her best to morph into a twentysomething everywoman, but is never quite convincing as the self-destructive author who went on to pen a memoir based on her journey of self-discovery, and who’d later go on to write Tiny Beautiful Things. Though strong, she doesn’t ever really completely disappear into the role – I just kept seeing Reese Witherspoon, not the character.
That minor criticism aside, the film still totally works, due in large part to Vallée’s deft handling of its powerful redemption story, stellar supporting cast and jaw-droppingly gorgeous outdoor settings. Dern is wonderful, as usual, as Cheryl’s free-spirited mother, and actors such as Sadoski, W. Earl Brown and Kevin Rankin equally solid as some of the assorted men from Cheryl’s past and present.
The film is punctuated by fleeting moments of levity amid the heavier material, and every tear it squeezes from the audience feels authentic and deserved. Vallée and screenwriter Nick Hornby have crafted a compelling vehicle that will not only engage filmgoers but surely earn its star another Academy Award nod, as well.