Emotional, touching, and powerful.
Emotional, touching, and powerful are just some of the words which come to mind after watching Jean Marc Vallée’s Wild. Based on the true story of Cheryl Strayed, one woman undertakes a 1,000 mile solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail in an attempt to not only find the person that she wants to be, but to redeem herself from her troubled past. Cheryl, played by Reese Witherspoon, challenges herself to a grueling three month hike, overcoming many challenges and facing both extreme highs and lows along the way.
Jean-Marc Vallée, director of the highly praised Dallas Buyers Club succeeds in portraying a story which not only leaves the audience incredibly moved, but also reflective on how the decisions we make in life lead us down certain paths. At particular moments in the film, the audience gains an insight into Cheryl Strayed’s painful past. After the devastating death of her mother, played by the incredible Laura Dern, Cheryl finds herself falling into a depressing life of drugs, promiscuity and ongoing grief. The film is structured so artistically that we see these flashbacks of Cheryl’s life just as the audience feels they are starting to know her. As well as a broken marriage, she suffers from her own demons which she tries to rid through hopeless attempts of short relief.
Reese Witherspoon delivers a moving and truly honest performance, portraying an ability of the Academy Award winning actress which is completely new. Witherspoon is completely bare, with no makeup or styling, and instead a grubby, sweaty face. As a result of carrying a ridiculously oversized hiking bag, Witherspoon looks constantly tired, drained, and is extremely convincing as a woman who is being stripped bare of all her comforts. Her performance requires her to explore almost every emotion that a young woman would experience at some point in their life, except in this instance, Cheryl is facing them all together at once in one painful journey and in haunting memory.
Despite these troubles which Cheryl faces, at no moment does the audience doubt her ability to complete this journey, as her strength in her character shines through. The film touches on a particularly significant issue for women, in the way which Witherspoon’s character is repeatedly being faced with challenges of being the subject of attention in a mostly male hiking community. Cheryl is continually being put in situations where her vulnerability is overwhelming, yet she tactfully deals with each situation, which ultimately just become a small obstacle in her bigger picture.
Laura Dern’s performance as Cheryl’s mother is nothing short of outstanding. Her ability to portray a mother figure whose love for her children is stronger than any of the struggles in her life certainly makes her worthy of her Academy Award nomination. Although Dern’s appearances in the film are only in the form of both nostalgic and painful memories, her character and charisma is so strong that it shines through into the present, where her presence is almost tangible at every moment during Cheryl’s hike. Despite the fact that the audience is watching her in the past, there is still a sense of her growth in these memories, where her morals and principles are not only clear, but also constantly changing as she attempts to deal with her sudden illness. The chemistry between Witherspoon and Dern becomes the element of the film which touches the audience most strongly.
The ending of the film was somewhat unexpected, and came at a point where the audience are so attached the Cheryl and her cause, that we wish for her final arrival at her finishing point to be far more epic and definite than it was. In some ways this was a disappointment after the rest of the film being so excellent, however it is understandable as the journey becomes not so much about Cheryl finishing her physical journey, but more her emotional one, which is summed up perfectly in the final moments of the film.
Wild (2014), directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, is distributed in UK cinemas by 20th Century Fox, Certificate 15.