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With the dissolution of her marriage and the death of her mother, Cheryl Strayed has lost all hope. After years of reckless, destructive behavior, she makes a rash decision. With absolutely no experience, driven only by sheer determination, Cheryl hikes more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, alone. WILD powerfully captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddens, strengthens, and ultimately heals her.
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Based on Strayed’s 2012 memoir, which I greatly enjoyed, Wild puts us in the shoes of Strayed in her self-healing. We feel her pain, see her experiences, and we are up close and personal with her; everything she feels, we feel. With a great use of flashbacks to flesh out Cheryl’s story, Wild strikes a delicate balance of biographical storytelling. The more accessible scenes of Cheryl’s physically exhausting hike are paralleled with flashbacks of her past. We learn of her mother’s death, her nasty divorce, and her reckless sex and drug abuse that leads her to make the decision to hike over 1,000 miles. If you’re not a fan of flashbacks, Wild probably won’t change your mind, but give it a chance because they’re necessary to get the full picture.
Cheryl’s a likable character, to be sure, and Wild reminds us this fact several times along the trail. Her journey is funny, emotional, and altogether enjoyable. Any backpackers will relate with her struggles with her “monster” backpack, and her side journeys to towns and stranger’s homes gives us scenery changes that show Cheryl’s true colors.
Wild really excels at creating an emotional bond between the viewer and Cheryl herself. This wouldn’t be possible without Reese Witherspoon’s outstanding performance, her best by a mile. Witherspoon connects with Strayed in ways unimaginable, striking a chord with anyone in the audience. Wild is a feminist tale, and it’s great to see a well-developed female protagonist in such a physically and emotionally empowering role. Witherspoon lays out all her cards on the table as Cheryl Strayed. She’s vulnerable, but also she isn’t; She’s open to repair her emotional wounds because she understands herself. Her conversations with fellow backpackers along the PCT show us the true Cheryl.
Strayed’s mother, Bobbi, played by Laura Dern, is also a great character. Despite being developed entirely in flashbacks, we know enough about her to know she was more than just a mother to Cheryl. Dern brings her A-game as well – her infectious smile and personality are enough to put a smile on anyone’s face with their well-developed mother-daughter relationship.
Cheryl’s reinvention of herself parallels her emotional turmoil of her past, and the film employs unique devices to create that bind. Director Vallee is smart in his framing and storytelling devices that book readers will catch, but also non-readers will be familiar with and recognize. It’s some expert filmmaking that I haven’t seen in a long time. With Dallas Buyers Club and now again with Wild, Vallee has solidified himself as someone to watch. The film is meticulously and beautiful crafted, with beautiful landscape shots that make the viewer want to be there alongside Cheryl, and a soundtrack with hand-selected pieces that mirror her journey, Wild is the complete package.
But this movie is so much more than that. Based on Cheryl Strayed’s real life experience, this movie is full of beautifully shot scenes throughout the Pacific Northwest – absolutely gorgeous. This is an epic hike of over 1,000 miles, but more than that, it is a soulful journey of discovery, healing and the inherent transformation of this woman as she discovers who she is. The many flashbacks throughout introduce us to her life - her ex, her mother, etc., and give us the very clear and understandable "why" of the story.
Reese Witherspoon is amazing as the heroine in this, and it is easy to forget she is acting. While she is still not my favorite actor, she has definitely jumped up the list, and I am no longer agnostic – she has some great talent. There are a few cringe-worthy points in the movie, as well as some comically appropriate points, which all flow together naturally and never give the impression of staged or forced.
I loved this movie, and I think almost everyone can identify and relate to this journey, even if only recognizing the desire to do something similar at some point.
Hint: This book, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, was an Oprah selection, and is also available on Amazon at: http://www.amazon.com/Wild/dp/B007MIWUG0/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1421535112&sr=8-1&keywords=wild+from+lost+to+found+on+the+pacific+crest+trail. It is well worth reading, or listening to the audible version. I have just started it myself after watching this.