2014 / Director. Jean-Marc Vallee.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
Films detailing personal pilgrimages and self-discovery resonate with me in a big way. I have a high tolerance for the sort of films that meander and take their time. Sometimes the most effective ones have barely any dialogue at all and they rely on atmosphere and expression to give them weight. Films like INTO THE WILD, THE WAY and THE LONELIEST PLANET exemplify what I mean.
WILD is based on an autobiographical novel by author Cheryl Strayed. It details the moment in her life when she sought redemption and healing from the years of pain that preceded. Her abusive childhood compounded by the death of her mother lead her down a dark road in life and her behaviour completely destroyed her own marriage. She found herself at a cross roads where her chosen direction would be as drastic as a decision between life or death.
Reese Witherspoon plays Cheryl and the film follows her 2065-mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail from California to Oregon. Her journey is full of reflection as the story is interjected with various flashbacks to pivotal moments in her life. As the days turn into weeks we hear her inner thoughts and frustrations as she slowly rediscovers herself and exorcises an unwanted part of her being.
I really tapped into WILD and bought into it for the most part. Witherspoon completely immerses herself in the character and puts herself through a gruelling and physically demanding process, and I would argue that it is her best performance to date. The screenplay was adapted by Nick Hornby and it’s good, albeit a little too hasty. Where such a film ought to be slowly paced and drawn out, WILD did feel a little too self-aware of its time restraints. As though they were pre-empting the mainstream audience’s attention-span the film’s intercepting flashbacks are all too frequent and sporadic. I wanted more time with Cheryl in her moments of reflection without her back-story being so blatant and kinetic.
Nevertheless the overall journey is rewarding and is captured beautifully. The vast, sweeping landscapes are captured with a hand-held perspective, which at first seems like a complete waste of opportunity. Director Jean-Marc Vallee could have opted for an epic cinematic approach but he chose, instead, to keep the ambience raw and singular. The hand-held approach puts us in the role of Cheryl’s invisible companion and ultimately makes the experience a lot more personal.
It runs at 116 minutes but it could have been much longer as far as I'm concerned. Sometimes less is more and with a much more relaxed pacing it would have been an outstanding film. WILD is not without its flaws, but is backed up with much more merit and an exceptional performance from Reese Witherspoon. I will return to this one before long.