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Movie Review | Wild (2014)



In the midst of her arduous journey, Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) makes her entrance onto the screen in an opening scene that sums up the nearly 2 hours to come. Startlingly painful and cringe inducing, she must endure an agonizing side effect of her walkabout. Her screams of frustration zip the movie to a flashback, whisking the narrative back to where her voyage began.

It is the first in a long series of garbled recollections that act as the jagged little puzzle pieces, scrapped together in the hopes of explaining why Strayed made the decision to go on a very unpleasant 1,100-mile trek.

Cheryl has had a rough go in life and empathy for her plight is easy to come by. Her father was an abusive alcoholic who the family has to eventually flee from him. Her lighthouse is her loving single-mom Bobbi (Laura Dern) who receives no mercy at life’s cruel hand. Tragedy strikes when a 45-year old Bobbi is diagnosed with cancer and Cheryl’s world is consequently ripped apart. Following the devastating loss of her mother, she falls into drugs and countless sexual trysts. Lost in a sea of grief, she takes a self-destructive wrecking ball to her own existence. 

While her mother’s loss is the apparent starting point, her behavior is soon indicative of a full blown addict and this side of the story is pretty much glossed over. She is shown imbibing in both of her vices while making her hike, without losing control to either of them. Her dabbling is depicted with a flippancy that is alarming and it’s hard to recall whether she actually admits to being an addict in the first place.

Jean-Marc Vallee’s direction is disjointed, scrambling from one scene to the next in a chaotic timeline of events that are muddily tied together. While it’s true people don’t usually reflect upon their lives and recall it in order, watching a movie unfold that way is dizzyingly difficult to follow. As a result learning the framework of past events is next to impossible. The strenuous amount of focus necessary to make sense of it all, only serves to tap one into the exhausting hike Strayed is making. There is nothing invigorating or life affirming to be found here. Awkward moments of isolated humor are drizzled into the mix and with the exception of one entertaining scene involving a reporter named Jimmy Carter (Mo McRae); none of it is actually funny.

Reese Witherspoon gives a respectable performance that is equal parts vulnerable and feisty. She conveys the internalized emotion that burdens Cheryl throughout the film, letting go of fragments of it along the way. A sparkling Laura Dern shines in her brief yet achingly pivotal performance as Cheryl’s soulful mother.

As fine of a job as Witherspoon does, there’s one key hurdle that plagues her casting. Given that Witherspoon was 37 during filming and without any stated clarification; the assumption is that Cheryl is the same age when she takes her expedition. In reality, the real Cheryl Strayed was only 26-years-old when she made her hike. Her mother’s death was a recent event, not one that had occurred 11 years prior. This drastically re-informs the previously understood timeline and without that knowledge, the context of her mother’s death coinciding with her downward spiral is subsequently lost in the fray.

Aside from some stellar quotes, there’s no real message or wisdom to be derived from “Wild”. How Cheryl is able to put her addictions and anger behind her can only be speculated upon as there are few answers given in this adaptation. As a movie it is as weary as its star traveler, as aimless as a needless compass and in the end, depressingly vacant of anything lastingly noteworthy. Rating: 5.5/10



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