Tuesday, October 14, 2014

LFF short review: Reese Witherspoon goes into the Wild

After Into the Wild and last year's Tracks, here comes the next movie about a white person turning their back on society, return into the arms of mother nature and learn valuable life lessons in the process. Reese Witherspoon embarks on the Pacific Crest Trail, a 1,100-mile solo hike along the west coast of the United States. It's based on the true story of Cheryl Strayed, who wrote a memoir about her experiences; adapted by Nick Hornby.

I approached Wild with low expectations, but I was quickly won over by the film's interesting character study. Like most of these films, Wild doesn't manage to convey a sense for the duration of Cheryl Stayed's suffering. Putting three months of walking into two hours is simply impossible, but the film isn't really interested in this anyway. Instead it looks back and turns its attention to ideas about grief and addiction (sex and heroin). Flashbacks are used generously and in an interesting way. They are presented in a non-chronological order, like fragments of memories. We get various glimpses of Cheryl's relationship with her mother (Laura Dern) and the difficult time after her death. Witherspoon does really well in creating this conflicted character and delivers her best performances in years.

It may be quite conventional and sentimental, but the director Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club) and Nick Hornby infuse Wild with enough edge and warmth to keep the drama interesting. As usual for Hornby, the soundtrack is first-rate as well (Cohen! Simon! & Garfunkel!) and the use of song to convey emotion is one of the film's biggest strengths. 

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