Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) sets out to walk the Pacific Crest Trail after the breakup of her marriage. Along the way she realises truths about herself, makes peace with her past and, for the first time, sees a way to move forward in her life.
Wild is based on the memoir of Cheryl Strayed a woman who, presumably, was inspired to undertake the trek across America when she felt like her life was out of control. There are similarities between Wild and last year’s Tracks, but huge differences when it comes to the women that undertook the journeys.
Reese Witherspoon is on rare form as Cheryl Strayed. Witherspoon not only makes Strayed a relatable character – she struggles with the task she has undertaken, and the intense solitude and quiet mean that she is suddenly bombarded with parts of her life that she has not yet come to terms with. Witherspoon’s performance does not open the audience up to judging the character, instead making sure that we accept Cheryl for the struggle she has gone through and the mission she finds herself on to come out the other side.
The rest of the cast is made up of Laura Dern as Strayed’s mother Bobbi, Thomas Sadoski, Keene McRae, Kevin Rankin and Leigh Parker. All do well with their roles, but this is really and truly the Reese Witherspoon show, so the film lives and dies with her.
The screenplay, adapted from Strayed’s book Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Nick Hornby, allows the audience to go on the journey with Strayed. There are times where the entire thing feels a little convenient – woman sets out on massive hike, has realisations along the way – but this is the tale we are being told. If Strayed had simply walked from one end of the US to the other, without ever really learning or growing, there would not be much of a story to tell. There are also times where it could be said that the film is a little indulgent, but while this may be the case, this never overwhelms the journey with sentimentality. The dialogue feels natural, as do Strayed’s realisations about her grief and her feelings toward her mother.
Director Jean-Marc Vallée carefully weaves past and present together, so the audience is allowed to go on the journey with Strayed, and learn more about her without tons of expository dialogue. The flashbacks work well here, and it feels as though we are stepping into Strayed’s memory as she works through the problems in her life.
In all, Wild is a powerful, moving and engaging look at one woman trying to come to terms with her life. Reese Witherspoon is at the top of her game as the sweet and honest Cheryl Strayed. Although there are times where it could be said that the film is self-indulgent, it is never sentimental, and feels honest all the way through. Killer soundtrack too.