The Watchers

The Watchers

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Review: Wild (UK Cert 15)

In 1995, Cheryl Strayed undertook a 1,100-mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert to the Washington State border. Following the death of her beloved mother Bobbi, Strayed spiralled into drug abuse and other dangerous behaviour and saw the trek as a way to rediscover herself and heal from the traumatic events of her life. So, with no prior backpacking experience, Strayed set out on the walk. She published her memoir- entitled Wild: From Lost To Found On The Pacific Crest Trail- in 2012 and it was selected as the first book in Oprah Winfrey's Book Club 2.0.

The film was optioned by Reese Witherspoon's film company, Pacific Standard, and is directed by Jean-Marc Vallee (who directed Dallas Buyers Club) with a script by Nick Hornby, adapting Strayed's memoir. Witherspoon plays Strayed, with supporting roles played by Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski, Michiel Huisman and Gaby Hoffmann.

There's certainly no doubting the veracity of Witherspoon's performance, nor her commitment to the role, literally putting her body on the line for it. There's no softening of the rougher edges of the character- Strayed cheats on her husband, abuses heroin, is selfish and confrontational- and she goes through snow and rain and punishing heat on her odyssey. I suppose my main issue is that there's no exploration (save for a hasty wrap-up interior monologue at the very end of the film) of how this experience has transformed the character- you never get to see the other part of her life and how she is a 'better' person for having undertaken the trek. Strayed doesn't come across as particularly likeable or a character you can have any empathy with, but isn't so nasty that you enjoy seeing her suffer. It's one of Witherspoon's stronger performances, certainly, but I found it difficult to warm to the character.

Laura Dern's performance as Bobbi is just superb and is thoroughly deserving of her Supporting Actress Oscar nod. It's actually a surprise the performance hasn't featured more heavily throughout this awards season, as it's a warm, emotive and very touching performance (although this has been a very strong year for that category). Describing herself as a woman who's never been in the driver's seat of her own life, she's nonetheless a strong and grounding influence for Strayed. Other characters are very much broad sketches with little development or even much personality, pretty much just acting as ciphers to show Strayed's state of mind or place in life at that time. 

Cinematography is good, the trail looks impressive in all its grandeur. This is a film that skips around as far as chronology goes, jolting backwards and forwards from the hike to the past and back again, so you need to concentrate and be engaged to really follow it. It's given to some odd metaphorical imagery as well at times which can be a little jarring.

All said, I found it difficult to enjoy this film. It's not a bad film, the central performances by Witherspoon is compelling and Dern lights up the screen every time she's on, but I found myself quite cold and unengaged with it. 

Rating: 3 out of 5


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