Moving and powerful in it’s tale of self discovery, the back and forth narrative, Witherspoon’s committed and frankly shining turn as the central character along with lush settings, pickings of humour and an inspired connection to the trek make ‘Wild’ more than what I was honestly expecting.
Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) decides to walk the Pacific Crest Trail in 1995 in light of a family loss and self abuse to her person. In the loneliest time of her life faced with crippling cold and sweltering heat Strayed comes to face a triumphant growth in trekking this trail.
Yves Belanger’s cinematography is awe inspiring. Beautiful can not cover how well the landscapes of this specific trail are captured. Valleys, mountains and rivers seem to peacefully arrive into the film, their astounding nature impressing to the eye and looking like a gorgeous still from a travel brochure. Seeing these shots and then having the contrasts of arid desert conditions and also snowy surroundings just lets you see how brutally differing our planet can be and this lone woman amongst it is a powerful image to mull over.
Jean-Marc Vallee utilises a multi-linear plot for this film and it works really well. I was dreading a film sticking in order and merely following Reese wander her journey but the flashes to her past and speeding in through certain dramatic montage moments is brilliantly effective and lifts the film, also adding an atmospheric and stylistic aura to the feature. Including the voice over of Witherspoon as Strayed is another neat idea and connects us to her thoughts and being without being overly forceful or annoying. This also sheds light on the funnier aspects of the film as Cheryl realises what she’s getting herself in for.
The back and forth isn’t jumpy but it works in benefit to the story. There’s a feeling of her past blasting in as if we’re flicking through her diary to get a better read on who she is and what led her to walking this long long trail. They flip by from time to time giving us brief glimpses to a moment of her life in a hotel room or as a child in her mum’s kitchen. It’s nice for it to keep coming back and expanding on these visions but not all in one go as that would be dull, so applause for this stylish manner of presenting Cheryl’s story.
‘Wild’ doesn’t have a score or musical composer to its name and instead plays on songs already made to fit in with the film. It perhaps would have been nice to have some instrumental made for the movie to accompany her walks in some scenes but the heavy quality lying with Simon and Garfunkel isn’t exactly a negative choice. El Condor Pasa (If I Could) wafts in over and over in a pleasant way, the echoes of the folk duo being hypnotic and the vibrations of the song providing calm and serenity on this sacred trail. This track and Homeward Bound play big parts in relating to Cheryl’s home and mother and give deeper impact to the present as she walks on. Jerry Garcia gets a tribute and is quite moving if not slightly twee in having the boy meet girl moment but then it’s an apt sound for a new step in Cheryl’s life.
Reese Witherspoon is a sheer delight and carries not only a massive backpack but the weight of the film as we follow her from start to finish and come to understand who she is. If Witherspoon hadn’t got that right then we wouldn’t care but we do and through Cheryl’s harder times we too believe this trail is a necessary option to put her back on the correct course. She’s utterly wonderful and I couldn’t think of someone else who could have stepped into those too small boots. Laura Dern arrives with that sunshine smile as the caring and every happy mum and to counter this she also portrays the frailer worried side in light of her illness. Dern’s image floats in now and then as a haunting symbol, a reminder and a friendly push and it all looks the part.
Vallee sure knows how to direct real life stories with oomph and get his stars award attention. There’s enough within this film to entice and engage, with steps in all the right directions as Witherspoon strides in her finest hour for a stunning, powerful and enlightening account in overcoming grief.