What has to happen in a person’s life in order for them to feel the need to walk 1000 miles in search of redemption, forgiveness and understanding? In 1995, Cheryl Strayed put herself through this gruelling ordeal in order to repent and recover from the miserable experiences she’d had, and the choices and mistakes she’d made as a result. Her memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail describes her experiences as she walked from The Mojave Desert to the borders of Washington State on a quest for self-discovery and acceptance. Reese Witherspoon’s production company, Pacific Standard, approached Strayed about adapting the memoir and now it’s made the jump from paper to celluloid. With Witherspoon in the title role, Wild tells the visual story of Strayed’s time on the 1000 mile trek which interweaves with flashbacks, memories and visions of her childhood and the significant figures and events that shaped her. Wild is in no rush to tell us why Strayed, an inexperienced hiker, felt the need to undergo these physical and mental expeditions. It tell its story slowly and calmly, giving us plenty of time to climb inside Cheryl’s head and battle her demons with her. It is always wise to be wary of “self-discovery” movies. Only last year we had Hector and the Search for Happiness, which received abysmal reviews from critics, and I think the horror of Eat Pray Love is still not a distant enough memory for most. Thankfully, Wild has much more in common with films like Into the Wild and Lost in Translation – Sofia Coppola’s unique stroke of genius.
Wild is a film that takes risks. For example, it is brave enough to be a one woman show. Although other actors stick their head in from time to time, this is Reese Witherspoon’s film. The film’s success relies completely on her ability to bring energy, passion and substance to Strayed’s memoir. If Witherspoon had been unable to bring Cheryl Strayed to life on the screen, Wild would have been a painful waste of two hours. Witherspoon does more than bring the character to life, she brings woman-hood to the screen in complex, realistic and courageous ways. Woman-hood with all its beautiful flaws, depths and intensity, burns brightly before us – making Wild a respectable study of what it means to be a woman during times of loneliness and solitude. Witherspoon has expressed her love for this project in recent interviews and press that surrounds the movie. It is blatant to see that this project is her baby – it’s obvious from the personal suffering and sacrifice she went through to get Wild made. She has nurtured it, grown with it and created something with real depth and distinction. Reese Witherspoon is tremendous when she wants to be. It’s been ten years since we first witnessed her Oscar-winning performance as June Carter in Walk the Line and it’s delightful to see her back on form after a decade of fairly underwhelming roles. Her portrayal of Cheryl Strayed is raw, physical and demanding. It is a big, bold performance that grows bigger than the film itself. Whilst exploring themes of remorse, feminism, marriage, motherhood and mourning, Wild struggles to live up to the performance at its centre. Wild is one great performance within a pretty good film, What I like most about Wild is what it chooses to say about men through its depiction of one woman and her multiple experiences during her journey across America.
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