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Reese Witherspoon's Wild is a deeply personal film that will redefine her as an actress

In recent years Witherspoon's choices have grown more and more interesting and have hearkened back to the role that initially made her an actress to watch. I was introduced to her through Alexander Payne's ELECTION. From the moment we met Tracy Flick we knew we knew we were seeing something special. Even though I had seen her in PLEASANTVILLE and S.F.W. ELECTION was the one that grabbed me, each film that followed underscored that she was a truly gifted performer but none of the films resonated deeply with me. 

Her role as Pam Hobbs in Atom Egoyan's DEVIL'S KNOT was probably the most underrated of last year. She brought a depth of emotion and pathos unlike anything I had ever seen from her. With WILD she has reinforced my belief that she is one of the more interesting actresses working today.  

After years of reckless behavior, a heroin addiction and the destruction of her marriage, Strayed makes a rash decision. Haunted by memories of her mother Bobbi (Academy Award nominee Laura Dern) and with absolutely no experience, she sets out to hike more than a thousand miles on the Pacific Crest Trail all on her own. WILD powerfully reveals her terrors and pleasures --as she forges ahead on a journey that maddens, strengthens, and ultimately heals her

The film is directed by Jean-Marc VallΓ©e (YOUNG VICTORIA) with a screenplay by Nick Hornby (ABOUT A BOY), based on the book by Cheryl Strayed. Producers are Reese Witherspoon, p.g.a. (GONE GIRL), Bruna Papandrea, p.g.a. (MILK) and Bill Pohlad (12 YEARS A SLAVE); executive producers are Bergen Swanson (THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT), Nathan Ross (DALLAS BUYERS CLUB) and Hornby. The filmmaking team includes director of photography Yves BΓ©langer, CSC (DALLAS BUYERS CLUB); production designer John Paino (WIN WIN); film editors John Mac McMurphy (DALLAS BUYERS CLUB) and Martin Pensa (DALLAS BUYERS CLUB); costume designer Melissa Bruning (DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES); casting by David Rubin (GRAVITY); visual effects supervisor Marc CΓ΄tΓ© (IMMORTALS) and music supervisor Susan Jacobs (AMERICAN HUSTLE)

WILD began with Cheryl Strayed’s own personal story – that of a woman still reeling from the sudden loss of her inspiring mother, a wrecked marriage and a headlong dive into unabashed self- destruction who decides to put a halt to it all and takes a seemingly preposterous adventure. With zero outdoors experience, a monstrously heavy backpack and fueled by little but her own ragged will, Strayed set out to hike the PCT, the longest, toughest and wildest through-trail in America, completely alone. Barely a few minutes into her trek, she considered quitting. But she persevered and during those few months, she found reminders of joy, courage and beauty amid the fear, exhaustion and peril. It was an adventure that helped her put her life back together again and emerge with a raw but remarkable story

Recalls Strayed: “It was a huge physical undertaking for me to hike the PCT for 94 days, but it was also very much a spiritual journey. I turned to the trail as many people turn to the wilderness-- at a time when I felt lost and desperate, when I was in a place where I didn’t know how to move forward. In many ways the trail taught me to literally just put one foot in front of the other again.”

Strayed’s story meant a lot to her personally but she couldn’t have foreseen how deeply her writing would tap into other people’s longing for a transformative experience. As soon as Wild was published in 2012 it hit the best-seller lists and drew critical raves, as much for its irreverent yet movingly candid style as for its adventurousness. The New York Times Book Review called it a “literary and human triumph” and The Boston Globe said Wild is “an addictive, gorgeous book that not only entertains, but leaves us the better for having read it.

One person who read the book several months before it was published was Reese Witherspoon, the Academy Award® winning actress and producer who was just starting up her own film company with producer Bruna Papandrea. Though streams of manuscripts were passing through her hands, Witherspoon’s reaction to Wild was instantaneous and fervent.

“I read the first half of the book on a plane and I was just in tears,” Witherspoon recalls. “Then, I just couldn’t wait to get back to the book and I read the rest on the flight back. I said, ‘I don’t know who Cheryl Strayed is, but I need her number immediately.’”

Witherspoon called Strayed and told her how deeply she related to the memoir and how much she believed the book could touch many different lives. “I told Cheryl this is a rocket ship, so hold on – you are going to go so far with this book,” she remembers. “I found her to be every bit the spiritual and emotional person that you'd expect. She’s no nonsense, cuts through all the b.s. and just tells it like it is – the same things that people really responded to with her book.” Witherspoon asked Strayed if she could option the film rights – and she and Papandrea soon began the process of trying to develop the story in a way that would do it justice. They knew they were headed into rough territory, not just to the PCT with its infamous harsh passages, but also into an emotional wilderness that many people who have never hiked a step have journeyed through.

“It was essential to us to maintain the purity of Cheryl’s book,” says Papandrea. “The book was so popular because whether you’re from a broken family or you’ve lost someone close to you or you’ve struggled with hardships, this is a story that reminds us we can save ourselves. Cheryl gets her life back because she chooses to walk back into the world. We wanted to tell that story. They joined together with Bill Pohlad (12 YEARS A SLAVE, INTO THE WILD, BROKEBAC MOUNTAIN) and River Road Entertainment to develop the script. “Bill and River Road gave us the ability to then find the best home which was Fox Searchlight,” says Papandrea.

As the project came together, executive producers Nathan Ross and Bergen Swanson came aboard. “I really loved the book,” says Nathan Ross, who also produced DALLAS BUYERS CLUB, echoing the response of so many. “It’s a physical journey but it’s just as much a very emotional journey and Cheryl comes out of the whole thing a better person in every way.”

For Swanson, whose recent films include SHAME and THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT, the film also hit a personal note. “I’m a native Oregonian and the movie is set in a world I grew up in, one you don’t see often in film,” he says. “For Oregonians, Wild becoming a best-seller nationwide has been really special because it illuminates how meaningful our natural environment can be and what it’s like to really get in touch with the wild.”

In short (or long) this is a film made with deep passion and more than worth your time. I don't know what your plans are for this weekend but you should make some time to see WILD. This is a film that people will be talking about for years to come.