Wild – Review

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Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Gaby Hoffmann, Thomas Sadoski, Keene McRae
Based on the Novel “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail” by: Cheryl Strayed
Adapted for the screen by: Nick Hornby
Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallee
IMDb Score: 7.2
Metacritic Score: 7.6
Nominated for 2 Academy Awards: Best Actress (Reese Witherspoon) and Best Supporting Actress (Laura Dern)

Rated R for sexual content, nudity, drug use, and language

The coming of age story is often the type of film that requires extensive character development and plot devices in order to show the maturation (or destruction) of a single or group of characters. These types of stories can be left to interpretation, however, and the actual “coming of age” is a metaphorical one displayed through context or by using other story devices (Citizen Kane, for example, is a brilliant framework story about a man whose only talked about through the people he encountered).

Wild eschews from a typical coming of age story by contrasting physical pain with emotional pain of one character. To put it simply, the character is going through a physical hardship of her own doing while trying to sort out the emotional hardship she’s endured in the past. And it does it without ever using Katy Perry’s “Roar” in the soundtrack.

The one thing that coming of age stories should do, almost as an unspoken rule, is to see a character grow from the beginning to end. So, why am I left with the feeling that, after two hours of watching Wild, that this coming of age story…didn’t come of age?

Cheryl Strayed (Witherspoon) decides to hike 1,100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail in order to cleanse herself and sort her life out after years of making bad decisions.

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Wild can be described in a few words: a film about absolving through physical pain. The thing is: the film doesn’t really give a feeling of some sort of growth. In fact, by film’s end, it feels like the character is simply running away from her past by some kind of first world walk-about, thereby feeling sort of disingenuous.

It can’t be said that the film doesn’t show struggle and heartbreak in a convincing way: the film is half flashback/half hiking. The problem is that the hiking, which is supposed to symbolically represent her growth into a different person, has zero effect on the actual story.

The actual hiking portions are both one-dimensional and surprisingly not very appealing to the eye. Many directors and cinematographers are able to make nature into a beautiful landscape (Fly Away Home, Brokeback Mountain), yet somehow Wild doesn’t do anything to make nature more appealing, which is a big problem to the movie.

Let’s be blunt about this: Wild is part Lifetime movie and part boring parts of Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring, with the Lifetime movie being the better part of the story.

Of course, this is a very well acted Lifetime movie, with a great performance by Reese Witherspoon. Witherspoon gives this character some serious depth and nuance in the flashback scenes, where the character starts her descent into self-destruction. To call the character likable is a stretch, however she makes the character relatable, which goes a long way for a character that isn’t very likable in the first place.

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Yet, even with these great, impactful scenes that Witherspoon co-ops into a very watchable performance piece, her acting in the “Wild” is lacking, almost to the point of it being superfluous.

It’s hard to fault Witherspoon: she does what she can with the material given. Unfortunately, the material on the “Wild” side consists of…walking, walking over rocks, walking over grass, pulling out a toe-nail, meeting creepy guys…and it doesn’t really get better than that. In fact, the film takes what many is believed to be a true, very personal story and turns it into what feels like a manufactured story.

This is mainly the fault of the people who adapted the film, Nick Hornby and director Jean-Marc Vallee. Vallee, who directed the recent Dallas Buyers Club, directs the film as a straight forward bio-pic when there is supposed to be more depth in the character than that. Again, as mentioned, the movie is done in nature as well as universities and rural areas, but neither seem to feel very distinct or alive. They just feel like sets.

The screenplay also doesn’t help the cause of the film. Whether it’s trying to match the protagonist’s plight through the woods with fractured memories or snapping back and forth to show some kind of complex narrative, the screenplay fails to do one key thing: write a cohesive story. There are heartbreaking scenes in this film that should have definitive impact on you, but it just doesn’t seem to be there.

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The movie is an empty shell of what it should be, to put it as straight forward as possible. The only strength in the film is the performance of Reese Witherspoon, which may just be her best performance to date. Unfortunately, it’s wasted on a script and direction that seems to not hold any water when it comes to emotional depth.

Which is sad because after the movie, I wanted to know more about this person who seemed like a validly interesting and provocative person.

1.5/5 – Witherspoon gives an excellent performance, but nothing else really shines in this mis-directed adaptation.

The Wiz Says #21

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