Wild

December 19, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski
Directed by: Jean Marc-Vallée (“Dallas Buyers Club”)
Written by: Nick Hornby (“An Education”)

Academy Award-winning actress Reese Witherspoon (“Walk the Line”) becomes one with nature in “Wild,” an emotionally affecting biographical drama adapted from writer Cheryl Strayed’s memoir of the same name about her 1,000-mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail during a tumultuous time in her life. As a film that centers around a character’s self-discovery and redemption, “Wild” is genuine, heartbreaking and thoughtful and features what turns out to be a career-best performance by Witherspoon (not to take anything away from her roles in “Line” or “Election”).

In “Wild,” we watch Witherspoon disappear into the role of Cheryl, a damaged and self-destructive woman whose marriage ends in divorce because of her promiscuity, and whose loving and unwavering mother (Laura Dern) has just succumb to cancer. Cheryl also finds herself battling a serious drug addiction, which is fueling her mental instability and disregard for the value of her own life. When Cheryl commits to turning everything around for herself, she decides the only way she can do that is by wiping the slate clean and challenging herself to a solo walk from the Mojave Desert in California to Washington State. During her walk, Cheryl reflects on the choices she’s made to get her to the place she currently finds herself and meets people along the way that help shape her into the new person she’s supposed to become once her journey is completed.

Through mesmerizing flashbacks of the life Cheryl hopes to leave behind, we watch her relationships break apart as she loses herself to her addiction and nosedives into an existence she never planned for herself. We also see the connection with her mother Bobbi, someone she always credited for saving her family from unhappiness, but never fully appreciated until she was gone. As Bobbi, Dern epitomizes what it means to have a full heart but live a fragile life. Her scenes with Witherspoon are beyond moving. Witherspoon on her own, however, is equally transcending as this three-dimensional character who ventures into the vastness of the wilderness alone and vulnerable, yet motivated and self-confident.

In one scene, Cheryl, after fellow hikers joke with her about how massive her backpack is by calling it “Monster,” decides to get rid of some of the stuff she really doesn’t need to lug around so her pack can be manageable for the rest of her trip. It’s a perfect metaphor for what Cheryl is experiencing. Shedding the extra, painful weight off one’s shoulders should be paramount to any healing process. In “Wild,” Witherspoon’s Cheryl has hit rock bottom, but is equipped enough to make an inspirational climb we can all admire as heroic.

An Education

November 20, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina
Directed by: Lone Scherfig (“Italian for Beginners”)
Written by: Nick Hornby (“About a Boy”)

More mature than any coming-of-age story in recent years, director Lone Scherfig’s “An Education” is a beautifully-written character study about a teenage girl blinded by the idea of love in 1960s London.

Adapted by Nick Hornby (“About a Boy”) from a memoir by British journalist Lynn Barber, the film follows Jenny Miller (newcomer Carey Mulligan who has often been compared to Audrey Hepburn), an intelligent 16-year old girl whose aspirations for her future surpass anything her boring little schoolgirl life is giving her at the moment.

Set to go to Oxford University to study English – partly because she wants to and partly because her father (Alfred Molina) has always hovered over her shoulder to make sure she doesn’t get off track – Jenny is prim and proper, independent, and never lets her inexperience direct her next step in life.

Things change, however, when she meets David (Peter Sarsgaard), an older, well-to-do man who quickly takes a liking to Jenny’s youthfulness. Jenny, too, is immediately charmed by David who isn’t anything like the fresh-faced boys smitten with her at school. None of them drive around in sleek sports cars like David does nor can any of them afford to take her to Paris, treat her to fine meals at posh night clubs, or outwit her doting father who allows the courting to continue despite some initial hesitancy.

As their relationship blossoms, the idea to attend Oxford becomes less and less important to Jenny. What woman really needs an education when there is a man in her life who will marry and provide for her? It’s the same type of traditional idealism encountered in 2003’s “Mona Lisa Smile.”

There is, however, a deeper sophistication to “An Education” brought in by screenwriter Hornby and director Lone Scherfig (“Italian for Beginners”) that magnifies these themes more than any films may have attempted before. Beneath David’s charismatic exterior, Hornby gives just enough of his menacing quality that you can’t be sure whether or not you saw it yourself. The always reliable Sarsgaard plays the part to perfection.

As the film slowly reveals itself, Mulligan continues to dominate the screen. As Jenny, she conveys everything a love-struck teenage girl would under the same circumstances of that era. From her vulnerability to her naivety, the layered role Mulligan has embarked on is career-defining and one that is sure to earn her an Oscar nomination.

As Jenny struggles through an emotionally-charged journey to womanhood, “An Education” allows us to feel the same exhilarating liberation and heartbreaking disappointment she is experiencing. While the film wraps up in a peculiarly ordinary fashion, the overly-cautious third act doesn’t hurt the movie much. By then, we’re devoted to Mulligan and the nearly flawless production Scherfig has created right before our eyes.