Monday, February 16, 2015

WILD (2014)

Rated:  R

STARS: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski
DIRECTOR: Jean-Marc Vallee
GENRE: Drama

Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to sit through the first couple minutes of Wild with your eyes closed and listen to the noises wayfaring Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) emits. You may think you've wandered into a porno by mistake. Then open your peepers to discover that the caterwaulings of a young woman losing a toenail out in the wilderness because her hiking boots are too small can have a remarkably similar ring to that of someone in the throes of ecstasy. A darkly comic moment in a film about some serious business. The business of life and its winding trails.and travails.  

Strayed is on an eleven hundred mile odyssey from the Mojave desert to the Oregon-Washington border--hiking alone, for the most part, along the Pacific Crest Trail. She's got a backpack that's as big as she is, and nearly as heavy. She struggles to raise herself off the floor and stand upright with it on. (Another richly comic moment.) On day one, she's already telling herself it's okay to quit. But she's got something to prove. To herself. The cumbersome pack is symbolic of the baggage she's carrying.  She's just lost her mother (Laura Dern) to a devastating illness, and her husband (Thomas Sadoski)  to divorce. She's been recklessly engaging in drug use and promiscuous sex. So her journey is one of getting in touch with the real person inside. The person her mother thought she was, or could be. The movie sticks pretty close to Cheryl Strayed's best-selling memoir, which adds to its jaw-dropping effect when you consider that this stuff really happened.   

Along the way, Strayed encounters men in various shapes and sizes who may, to varying degrees, pose potential threats to her security. Even in nature, it's  human nature
that always seems to come into play. And we learn a lot about that in Wild. As in what the human spirit is capable of when pushed to its limits. Witherspoon probably didn't hike any further than necessary to complete her scenes, but she did push herself beyond her normal boundaries in terms of amount of skin bared and hot sexy scenes--in the alley no less! 

 I always admire someone who is willing to lay it all on the line for the sake of their art. 

Grade:  B +


I find Cheryl Strayed's last name particularly appropriate as she definitely strayed from her intended hiking trail on numerous occasions. And since I'm in a punny mood, I also find one of Reese Witherspoon's other movies (Walk The Line) also ironic. But as far as Wild goes? The story is impressive and Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club) keeps it moving with flashbacks from Strayed's dark past and incredible scenery.  Still, the film proves to me—once again—why I hate camping. Too damn  much packing and unpacking. Over and over again.

Small as her part was, I do think Laura Dern turned in another masterful performance. (Clearly talent runs big in that family!) If by some miracle, she wins this year's Best Actress in a Supporting Role award, it would make a nice touch if her dad, Bruce Dern, nominated last year for Best Actor in Nebraska,presented her with the much-coveted statuette.

Sometimes my ratings are too lenient but this time, probably due to the subject matter, I'm going to be less kind. Frankly, I'd rather watch a Nat Geo Special than sit through nearly two hours of Reese Witherspoon without make-up. Seems to be the thing this year for actresses to expose their un-pancaked faces – Jennifer Aniston in Cake, Julianne Moore in Alice. I prefer 'em beautified.

Grade: C