When someone explained the premise of this movie to me, it sounded like the most uninteresting thing. The gist is that Cheryl (Reese Witherspoon) is embarking on a 3-month adventure walking from southern California all the way up the coast to Washington. It didn’t sound like it would be packed full of excitement.
It turns out the real heart of the movie is revealed in flashbacks, most notably of Cheryl’s mother (played by Laura Dern) and ex-husband (Thomas Sadoski). Little by little, you begin to learn why she is walking and it’s a fascinating yet realistic story.
When people bring this movie up, it often includes the term “award-winning” either in terms of the film itself or Witherspoon’s performance. Those claims are warranted.
Let’s talk about Witherspoon. I didn’t really see much in her before, as I still associate her with roles like Legally Blonde. Here though, she delivers an incredible performance. While walking the Pacific Coast Trail, she is broken but continues to walk. In her flashbacks, you see many different faces of the same woman and that gives her a third dimension that we wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. She is believable in every different phase of her life and it all builds to a story that is full of depth and character and it’s all because of her performance.
As a film, Wild is incredibly engaging and shot in a way that shows, rather than tells, her tribulations and what has made her go on this journey. Flashes of trauma, key scenes from her childhood, it all builds a wonderful mosaic that slowly reveals her motivation. I thought the movie was going to be slow and uninteresting but it thoroughly impressed me.
Laura Dern, as Cheryl’s mother, also gives an incredible performance.
What doesn’t work?
Very little. The only complaint is that, because of its nature as a true story, the movie lacks a big climactic moment or reveal. That’s not the way life works though, so when the movie’s over, you kind of feel like it lacked a punch at the end. In this case though, it’s (literally and figuratively) about the journey itself.
Reese Witherspoon delivers an absolutely incredible and three-dimensional performance, with help by a great creative vision by director Jean-Marc Vallee. The movie is engaging and interesting and will no doubt be a contender for big awards this year.