The witty words of Nick Hornby meet the intensity of Reese Witherspoon on a mission.
Put one foot in front of the other, keep going, and you’re on a journey — and sometimes an adventure that captures attention. Add a few interesting incidents, and/or intentions fuelled by self-discovery, and you might just have a book and then probably a film. In fiction, it worked for Forrest Gump; in reality, it worked for Into the Wild. It is in the footsteps of the latter, not the former, that Wild follows, as it turns the true trek of Cheryl Strayed into a cinematic hike.
In 1994, Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) was 26 and struggling with her lot in life, lingering grief inspiring a raft of destructive decisions. With her marriage in tatters, and her daily routine in the doldrums, she opted to take time out to achieve what seemed an impossible feat: walking the 1770 kilometres of the Pacific Crest Trail alone, and truly coming to terms with her identity and existence in the process.
Of course, helmer Jean-Marc Vallée and scribe Nick Hornby don’t just jump from point A to point B in telling Strayed’s tale on screen, nor is the considerable physical feat the point of their film. As might be expected from the linear-averse director of Cafe de Flore, as well as the emotionally astute screenwriter of An Education, flashbacks during Strayed’s wander prove as crucial as the walk itself.
The usual array of dire events and moments of discovery furnish the familiar storyline, one that continually emphasises its message of persevering regardless of the circumstances. So too do glimpses of the naturalism that flavoured Vallée’s last feature (and one also based on real-life circumstances), Dallas Buyer’s Club, as well as Hornby’s witty way with words.
There may be few surprises in the movie that evolves as a result, but that doesn’t mean that the voyage it depicts isn’t worth taking. Expressive cinematography and fine-tuned editing help immerse the audience in Strayed’s fractured yet persistent mindset and rough yet picturesque surroundings, creating an offering of style and sensitivity in charting a predictable triumph over adversity.
As awards bodies have duly noticed, however, Wild is less remarkable for the plight it portrays and its manner of doing so, and more worthy of praise for the accompanying performances. Eschewing glamour, playing a real figure and inhabiting a gruelling experience are all common fodder for accolades and attention, yet Witherspoon is as committed to getting to the heart of her endeavour as the character she plays. Laura Dern radiates empathy and earnestness in the role of Strayed's mother, even if her scenes are tinged with tragic cliches.
Indeed, that’s the film from the start of its travels until the end: weighty but always apparent, contemplative while laced with truisms, and making more than a modest attempt at striving for something beyond the usual.