Oscars 2015 Contender Film Review: "Wild"
Oscar Contender Film Review 2014-15: "Wild"
It is practically impossible to not review "Wild", based on the titular memoir by Cheryl Strayed without drawing allusions to both Danny Boyle's 2007 James Franco starring vehicle "127 Hours" and the Sean Penn directed 2008 film "Into The Wild" starring Emile Hirsch. I say this because both of those earlier pictures traverse a lot of the same territory both emotionally, visually and psychologically. To call "Wild" the offspring of those two films, however accidental, would rob it of much of its majesty and captivating power.
Director Jean-Marc Vallée is certainly no stranger to pushing boundaries. His 2013 Academy Award frontrunner "Dallas Buyer's Club", starring an incredibly effective and very gaunt Matthew McConaughey as a heroin-addicted, AIDS-infected crusader during the height of the disease's rampant hostility in the 1980s took you by the shoulders and shook you until the film rendered itself unforgettable. Vallée's ever-observational but poetic camerawork complete with some of the most committed performances and topical writing in recent memory entranced audiences on every side of the issue. Thankfully, the director's camera and precise eye took a great leap forward with Strayed's material and elevated it to spiritual heights.
Reese Witherspoon ably steps into Strayed's worn hiking boots and plunges herself waist-high into her journey. Her character faces insurmountable odds throughout the film, not the least of which is the physical toll of hiking some 1,100+ miles through almost nothing but desert. We see Cheryl face her mother's debilitating early-onset sickness, her brother's emotional isolation, her father's penchant for alcoholism and abuse, and her own understanding of proving that the impossible is possible. She goes through the trials of initial experimentation and, later, actualization and self-discovery that allow her to become the woman she never knew she could be. Witherspoon gracefully channels all of these issues and brings genuine gravity to her role in much the same way that she filled June Carter Cash's shoes in 2005's Oscar-Winning portrayal in "Walk The Line".
Additional acting honors must go out to the very selective Laura Dern who, as Cheryl's mother delivers a heart-wrenching and soulful performance. Even though she is used entirely in flashback sequences and daydreams, her screen time is utilized for its maximum potential and purpose. Her interactions with Cheryl as a young girl exude a playful, motherly whimsy and in Cheryl's teenaged scenes they transform into critical and impacting moments as she tries to mold Cheryl into the no-nonsense and independent woman she becomes.
So folks, if you are looking for a very stirring "exploratory film" genre movie that takes the very best of what came before it and does something extraordinary with its source material, this is DEFINITELY for you. Also, do yourself a favor and pick up the book "Wild: From Lost To Found on the Pacific Crest Trail". It's a great one!