Synopsis: In Wild, director Jean-Marc Vallee (Dallas Buyers Club), Academy Award winner Reese Witherspoon and Academy Award nominated screenwriter Nick Hornby bring bestselling author Cheryl Strayed’s extraordinary adventure to the screen. After years of reckless behavior, a heroin addiction and the destruction of her marriage, Strayed makes a rash decision. Haunted by memories of her mother Bobbi (Academy Award nominee Laura Dern) and with absolutely no experience, she sets out to hike more than a thousand miles on the Pacific Crest Trail all on her own. Wild powerfully reveals her terrors and pleasures – as she forges ahead on a journey that maddens, strengthens, and ultimately heals her.
Release Date: December 5, 2014 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Before it was even published, a manuscript of author Cheryl Strayed’s book “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail” found its way into the hands of actress/producer Reese Witherspoon (This Means War). From there, before the book had even hit shelves, Witherspoon had optioned the movie rights and began turning Strayed’s story into Wild.
Witherspoon stars in Wild as Cheryl Strayed, a young woman whose marriage has been ruined by her drug use and sexual promiscuity. To clear her head (and her conscience), Cheryl decides that she “needs” to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, a treacherous path that goes from Mexico to Canada by way of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountains. Cheryl sets off, on her own and with no formal training or hiking experience, from the southernmost point of the trail and makes her way north, battling both the physical hardships of the hike as well as the emotional turmoil that resides deep within her own mind. Along the way, she leaves literary quotes in logbooks that other hikers take to heart, and soon becomes a somewhat legendary figure along the trail. The hike tests her will and heals her soul, proving to herself that she is more than just a load of damaged goods.
Strayed’s novel was adapted for the screen by novelist Nick Hornby (About a Boy, High Fidelity), and the writer does a pretty good job of bringing out the character of Cheryl in what is essentially a single-character based film. The film is directed by Jean-Marc Vallee (Dallas Buyers Club), who crafts a fairly decent survival story that is a slick combination of woman vs. nature and woman vs. herself. The problem is that Wild is wildly unbalanced. Hornby’s script is non-linear, with the story flip-flopping between scenes of Cheryl’s real-time journey on the trail and flashbacks to her past as she relives the memories of her youth. The flashbacks are the truly compelling part of the story, with the film detailing scenes of Cheryl doing heroin, having sex, living on the streets, and, as a result of this reckless behavior, getting robbed and assaulted regularly. It’s the tough part of the film, but it’s also the engrossing part; the hike along the trail pales in comparison to the events that brought her there. To put it bluntly, it’s just more interesting to watch Cheryl struggle with the troubles of her past life rather than deal with the physical challenges of the Pacific Crest Trail.
There’s a weird vibe to Wild. On the one hand, it’s breathtaking; the technical aspects of the film are stunning, from the beautiful cinematography of Yves Belanger (who also shot Dallas Buyers Club for Vallee) to the creative sound design of Ai-Ling Lee (The Maze Runner, Godzilla). Likewise, the cast is great, with Witherspoon leading the way, but other experienced actors like Laura Dern (Jurassic Park), Gaby Hoffman (Obvious Child), and Thomas Sadoski (“The Newsroom”) offering support in limited roles. On the other hand, the narrative is tediously boring. Much of the movie takes place inside Cheryl’s head with Witherspoon providing voiceover narration that guides the viewer through her memories and thoughts. It’s a powerful and optimistic story, but like any existential journey movie, it’s a slow burn. Unfortunately for Wild, the slow burn never really ignites, it just kind of fizzles until the merciful ending of the movie. But, at least Wild is pretty to look at.
The editing in Wild was done by director Jean-Marc Vallee himself (under the name John Mac Murphy) along with his Dallas Buyers Club co-editor Martin Pensa. The editing is strange, but effective; most of the narrative is shown through continuity editing, shifting between Cheryl’s real-time experiences and the flashbacks of her past, but every once in a while the pattern is broken up with random images that represent the stray thoughts and memories that echo through Cheryl’s head. It’s a stream of consciousness approach that works in a similar way to that of other isolation movies like 127 Hours; the monotony of Cheryl’s hike lets her mind wander, and the pictures that Vallee and Pensa place onscreen put the viewer right into her head. From a technical standpoint, Wild is a very well-crafted film, keeping things somewhat interesting without being too surreal.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Jean-Marc Vallee
- Screenwriter(s): Nick Hornby
- Cast: Reese Witherspoon (Cheryl)Laura Dern (Bobbi)Thomas Sadoski (Paul) Keene McRae (Leif)Michael Hulsman (Jonathan)Gaby Hoffman (Aimee)
- Editor(s): Martin Pensa
- Cinematographer: Yves Belanger
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score:
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA