A thousand miles is a long way. It’s even longer if you’re alone, recovering from addiction, and enduring the elements in an attempt to redeem yourself for the mishaps that have happened in your life. This is essentially the gist of what Wild, the autobiographical, novel-adapted film starring Reese Witherspoon is about. While the film is strong in acting, it lacks in excitement and any sense of direction and guidance for a movie that is all about the journey, ultimately leaving us scratching our heads as to whether or not it was entirely worth it.
Cheryl has had a tough couple years. The trailers hint at these tragedies, but I do not want to spoil anything so I will only say that she is hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, which extends from Mexico up to Canada, in order to overcome said tragedies. After some mishaps and poor planning, she finds herself in love with the wilderness. She finds solace in her self-imposed solitude. Through flashbacks we come to find out what had befallen her and her inspiration to drop everything for three months to hike the 1,000 mile trail.
Reese Witherspoon wholeheartedly owns this role. In her best work since Walk the Line, she truly becomes Cheryl. Through her we experience the pains and sorrows she dealt with. The drug addiction, the relationships, and her exceptionally large backpack all weigh down on her. Witherspoon bares it all, unleashing fury and rage in her attempts to overcome the pain she has suffered. She never holds back and it truly shows even in her face and body as she becomes bruised and battered from the three month long journey to find some sort of relief. Cheryl is flawed, damaged, and sometimes unlikable, but she is nonetheless entertaining to root for and encourage. Witherspoon is certainly going to be a frontrunner for the Best Actress award this year, and my vote is on her, because in some ways she definitely saves the film.
So, while we have this long trek of self-discovery and redemption through the wilderness, there is not much guidance in terms of what appears on the screen, and a severe lack of any moments where the trip truly weighs down on her after the first couple miles. The flashbacks come at rapid intervals; sometimes we forget where she is because they last so long. At other times they aren’t even entirely relevant but rather passing memories brought about by something on the trail. If I had had some way to measure a ratio of flashbacks to present, it would probably come out to a staggeringly close equality. The film is too dominated by flashbacks in trying to explain her need to partake on the hike, instead of focusing on how the trip physically and mentally tests her. One would also expect that any film about someone fending for themselves in the wild would have some sort of danger and excitement, but the moments of peril come very far and few between. There are hardly any animals in the film, which is surprising because she spends three months in the wild, and when we do see them they do not last for long. .
The director, Jean-Marc Vallee, whose most recent work is Dallas Buyers Club tends to be able to achieve impressive performances but when the film comes down to its final moments, he leaves it off without explaining what has happened in much detail. I found this same problem in Dallas Buyers Club when, at the end of the film, we do not learn of what really became of Ron Woodruff, and the major issues of the movie are summed up in just a few words of dialogue or narration which kind of negates what the journey has set up for the ultimate self-discovery. Wild is no different, and it is even more of a blow because the movie was all about the journey but we don’t quite get an idea of what became of her life after this immense undertaking.
In the end, Wild never fully lives up to what it promises throughout the film. This does not make it an entirely bad film, but the promises it makes never are fulfilled to the point of a great satisfaction. The journey is emotional and interesting, but when it comes down to what is learned by it all, the lesson is either not addressed enough or summed up so quickly that it breezes by you like a passing thought. Witherspoon is at her utmost best, and her performance redeems the film from its lack of focus and guidance, but it still leaves you wanting a better sense of closure. So if you are a fan of Witherspoon, hikes, or nature, this movie is exactly what you need.