I can confirm that after watching director Jean-Marc Vallée’s “Wild” he’s slowly becoming one of my new favorite directors. All of the interesting visual vitality he brought to last year’s “Dallas Buyers Club” he has brought to “Wild” as well. The film presents the true story of Cheryl Strayed who after a experiencing tough personal loss, went on a downward spiral of depression and climbed out of it by taking a physical and emotional hike over 1000 miles from southern California to the Oregon-Washington border along the Pacific Crest Trail. As Strayed, Reese Witherspoon gives another outstanding performance as a woman overcoming grief. “Wild” could have easily been a Lifetime movie but the performances, spot-on script, and authentic direction help it rise above standard made-for-cable material.
Besides the fact that the film is a visual spender as Strayed embarks on her emotional and extremely physical journey, the film’s script (by writer Nick Hornby) throws narrative convention out the window. The film is almost shot like a dream, with random images and memories to Cheryl’s life breaking up her present day hiking journey. And these scenes don’t naturally flow into each other, sometimes a character will have passed away only to be shown alive in Cheryl’s memory a few scenes later. It’s pretty audacious and shows impressive editing prowess by Martin Pensa and Vallée himself (credited as John Mac McMurphy). From the very beginning we’re shown just how difficult a journey Cheryl’s trek will be. In a wonderful scene, we’re shown her packing for her trip and attempting to put on her pack. She can’t even lift it off the ground, which shows that she’s obviously “too prepared” and obviously somewhat of a novice because she doesn’t know what to leave behind.
“Wild” works tremendously well as a road picture. She meets interesting people along the way not unlike characters we met in 2007’s "Into the Wild." One man she comes across who she asks for help seems like he’s going to kidnap her but he turns out to be just a nice, friendly guy. The flashback sequences, presented in no obvious chronological order, fill us in on the trouble life of the film’s heroine. Laura Dern (who’s not much older than Witherspoon in real life) plays her spunky mother in a small role with big significance to the main character. Their storyline is touching and moving and hits all the right buttons.
I loved the docudrama look and feel of “Wild.” It was the same approach that worked wonders for “Dallas Buyers Club.” You get fragments of Cheryl’s life without much context and from there you’re able to piece together this woman’s life, and what lead to her downward spiral and partaking in questionable, self-destructive behavior. And it’s fascinating seeing her on her journey with all its ups (meeting interesting people) and downs (forgetting the wrong kind of gas for her hiking stove). It’s as rewarding for the audience as it was for the woman who really took the trip. GRADE: A-
Trailer for Wild on TrailerAddict.