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.