Wild – Review

Having been notably singled out in this year’s Oscar crop for having a screenplay written by Nick Hornby; there’s an unavoidable reality that perhaps that attribute may be the worst thing the marketing folks could do with Wild. With Hornby’s (in my opinion, deserved) fanbase no doubt likely to show up opening weekend for his name alone, Wild – as solid a film as it may be – is far from the author’s traditional realm.

Based on the memoir by Cheryl Strayed, Wild tells of Strayed’s journey across a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail – a self-reflective hike she undertakes alone in order to rediscover herself in the wake of her divorce, her mother’s death, and years of drug abuse and reckless behaviour.

Largely a one-man (or woman, in this case) show, it’s a brilliant platform in which both director Jean Marc Vallee – fresh off of last year’s equally solid Dallas Buyers’ Club – and star Reese Witherspoon get to remind us exactly why they are each held in such high regard. In only his second high profile Hollywood film; Vallee has cemented his signature tone and style, a succinct fusion of high-drama and dark character that would still convey as much if the film were to be seen without sound and dialogue. Witherspoon meanwhile is a tour de force as Strayed, a role she embraces fearlessly and with absolute conviction. At the time of writing, Witherspoon has just received a Best Actress nomination for her work here, and without obviously knowing how things will pan out come February 22nd, it is at the very least a nomination well-deserved for a terrific and engrossing performance.

Narratively however, Wild fares less well. With Strayed’s geographical journey played linearly, the rest of the film is made up of out-of-sequence flashbacks intended to fill in the backstory of her emotional one; a now-traditional technique of course, but an ineffective one given that once the story markers have been laid out for us, the empty space between them becomes instantly less interesting and point-for-point more predictable than it should be. Interestingly enough, had the film played this structure the other way – with the Pacific Crest Trail being the flashes, the backstory being the plot – the film may genuinely have held more interest and triumph than the finished product.

Wild isn’t by any stretch of the imagination less than a solid and powerful exploration of a vulnerable young woman; however the structure proves far too predictable to live up to the movies title, let alone the wealth of talent visible in both its director and star.

Catch Van Connor’s reviews in our Movies section and live on Slam Dunk Cinema every Saturday at 12PM on Sheffield Live! 93.2FM or on the podcast via iTunes.

In it
Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski
Behind it
Jean Marc Vallee

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