KAYLEE BREWSTER3 1/2 out of 5
If spending time outdoors is on your list of New Year’s resolutions, take some inspiration from “Wild.”
Most people hike for recreational uses. Maybe for an afternoon, or a day or a week. They might do a couple of miles or 20. They might do it to reconnect with people or nature, or get away from technology. But Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) is doing a 1,000-mile journey to find what she lost: herself.
As the audience follows Strayed’s journey of self-discovery, they find that it’s actually not boring. There are many movies about journeys (e.g. “Lord of the Rings”) but most of those fill in the time with adventures, battles and bad guys (e.g. “Lord of the Rings”). Just watching someone walk for 1,000 miles doesn’t seem like a good time, particularly when that person is alone for a majority of the movie. However, Witherspoon’s acting makes it honest and director Jean-Marc Vallee and screenwriter Nick Hornby make it engaging.
Strayed is a complicated character with a lot of baggage — and that’s a reference to her backpacking gear. Sometimes it’s just the weariness in her eyes and voice that lets you know it’s not only the physical pain that is taking its toll. Witherspoon makes her character see-through: You can tell what she is thinking and feeling even when she doesn’t speak a sound.
The screenplay also uses voice over, which manages to work in this film because it sounds like Strayed’s thoughts being communicated to the audience. And it’s not just in what she is saying — or in this case, thinking — but also the heavy-breathing and sometimes repetition of “Why am I here? Why am I here?” that really makes it feel like you are in her head.
The story is cleverly broken up between what is happening to Strayed on the trail and what led her take the journey in the first place. The flashbacks are clearly defined and give Strayed and the story more depth and understanding. Even though the flashbacks don’t necessarily all happen in order, they still are easy to follow for the audience.
The voice over and flashbacks break up the story so there’s not too much of watching Strayed walk and walk and walk and walk and walk, while also not providing too much of her past that we don’t see how she is dealing with it at present.
Also, the journey Strayed takes in “Wild” is on the Pacific Coast Trail, which goes from Mexico to British Columbia, so it’s nice to see some representation from the grand Pacific Northwest in film.
Like many stories of people doing crazy things because of loss, pain or self-discovery, “Wild” could have been another boring ol’ biopic. But it’s not. Thanks to Witherspoon, Valle and Hornby, it gets audiences interested in its story and its character. Audiences can relate to and understand Strayed, even if they have never had her experience. That’s the driving force of “Wild.”