When’s the last time Reese Witherspoon has delivered a performance of merit? A very long time. But Wild, the new film from Dallas Buyers Club director Jean-Marc Vallée, reaffirms that this the very same actress that won the Oscar in 2006 for Walk the Line. This is an actress that can act when given the right role, and this is, indeed, the right role.
Following the events of Cheryl Strayed’s memoir From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, the movie tells the story of Cheryl, who decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail (more than a thousand miles) in an effort to heal herself after a divorce, the death of her mother, and years of drug abuse. The movie wastes no time getting started, starting in the middle of the hike and then going back to the beginning, sometimes flashing back to events in her childhood. I liked the way the film did this, sometimes showing Cheryl in the present hearing a song which is a specific song that triggers some memories, which results in the film shifting to a flashback sequence. I found it to be a creative method instead of the typical flashback sequences we usually get.
Reese Witherspoon is terrific in this movie, being the front-and-center star of the show, which often times feels like James Franco in 127 Hours. She doesn’t get her arm caught between a rock and a hard place, but she’s emotionally trapped, and we spend much of the running time bonding with her character as she hikes by herself. Other times, she runs across individuals, which always begin with a clichéd sense of oh-no-he’s-going-to-hurt-her but then eventually evolve into trustworthy friends (most of the time). No one in the movie measures up to Witherspoon though, whose performance ranks among her very best ever, never once becoming boring to watch even though walking alone through a seemingly abandoned trail. There’s no overstating her performance, but it is a shame that the movie isn’t as great as she is.
It always seems to fall back on emotion, with elements of Cheryl’s life story coming into play and attempting to make us feel for her character. For some reason, they didn’t move me. Nothing in the movie really moved me, which isn’t good considering that there are clearly moments when it sincerely tries to. The direction is competent, but I don’t think the filmmaking is anywhere near as good as that of Dallas Buyers Club.
Still, this is a vehicle for Reese Witherspoon, and she knocks it out of the park. It’s a good film, one with honest intentions and an appealing sense of humility. If only the movie itself were as good as Witherspoon’s performance.
1 hr. 55 mins.
Rated R for sexual content, nudity, drug use, and language
Starring Reese Witherspoon
Written by Nick Hornby
Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée