Last year, Jean-Marc Vallee directed Dallas Buyers Club, a movie that was actually a pretty enjoyable watch even though I have no desire to watch it again. This year, he’s back with a similar film: Wild. They’re not too similar in content, except for the main characters of both films trying to put their crazy and wild pasts behind them, but they have a similar feel to them. So bottom line is, if you liked Dallas Buyers Club, it might be worthwhile checking out this film as well.
Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) is a woman embarking upon the Pacific Crest Trail, a hike that will take her three months. After her mother (Laura Dern) dies, she falls into a self-destructive pattern, using drugs and having sex with basically anybody. To correct her terrible life choices, she decides to live her life as her mother would have wanted, getting more in touch with nature and working towards some sort of goal. As she hikes, she goes through a sort of cathartic process where she confront her past behavior and what her mother’s loss means to her.
Now this might all seem like a load of hippie-dippy transcendentalist nonsense, and in a way it is, but it’s actually a pretty solid movie. The film isn’t throwing around a lot of huge weighty issues, but it is inspiring in a way to see the ordeal Cheryl puts herself through, and how it does help her in the end. Witherspoon is very deserving of her best actress nomination, conveying Cheryl convincingly at various points in her life as well as the physical ordeals she has to go through. Laura Dern also turns in a good performance; she simply radiates positivity and hope.
Vallee’s use of flashbacks is crucial to the film, because at the start of it there is sort of a mystery as to why this untrained amateur is setting off on this hike in the first place. That said, they can also get in the way of the film. Sometimes they really are just flashbacks; one flash of an image that doesn’t tell the viewer a lot about what’s happening. I suppose the effect is to show how Cheryl’s memories are intruding upon her mind without her say-so, but I still think it’s a good thing that Vallee didn’t use them that much because they can be distracting. Another reason they don’t quite work is that the beginning of the film is actually the middle, but that’s unclear for a few scenes when the film circles back in the middle. I eventually realized what Vallee was up to, and it’s been done in movies before, but for some reason it confused me here.
While Wild may not be the most fun you’ll have at cinemas this year, it still is worth a look, especially for fans of last year’s Dallas Buyers Club. Witherspoon and Dern turn in some great performances and the story is pretty inspiring. Vallee’s use of flashbacks is sort of a double-edged sword, but it keeps the film more interesting than it would have been without them. It’s not going to shoot up the list of my favorites, but Wild is a solid movie and better than I thought it was going to be.
“You can put yourself in the way of beauty.”
Long story short: 3/4 stars