WILD — (letterboxd review)


This review reportedly contains spoilers.

Bottom Line: This film resonates. It is a visual poem, and while its central character (and author of the source material Cheryl "Strayed," played here with true depth and resolve by Reese Witherspoon) is somewhat egomaniacal and self-involved and wayward to the point of self-destruction, we are always on her side. We understand how and why she operates as she does, thanks to a series of beautifully evocative and emotive flashbacks.

Consider it a companion piece, or sister if you will, to Sean Penn's adaptation of Krakauer's INTO THE WILD, the tragic account of the wanderlust and death of Chris McCandless — no better and no worse, but on equal footing with that most magical, timeless of human tales. This is high praise coming from myself, an ardent proselytizer of that film.

While Cheryl doesn't reach a tragic end, and hence WILD does not reach the tragic heights of hubris in its crescendo as does INTO THE WILD, it often threatens to. As well-rendered as Emile Hirsch's McCandless was, Witherspoon's portrayal of Cheryl truly plumbs the depths — she is fully exposed, warts and all, and her inner pain and guilt and shame (surely imparted in spades at an early age by her abusive father, which sets her on a crooked course of meaningless sex and infidelity and self-abuse that results in the end of her marriage to a good man) are laid bare as she punishes herself with a grueling trek north along the Pacific Coast trail. She did not "train" for this trek, as has a male hiker she meets on the road (and outlasts), she overpacks (the weight she carries is both physical/literal and emotional/metaphoric), and that is the point — this journey is a self-imposed walk through the fire.

As she traverses the coastline, from the desert to the emerald forests of the Pacific Northwest, Cheryl learns to accept herself as she is. Her journey may be somewhat masturbatory and self-involved, but it is ultimately cathartic. We should all learn to love ourselves, to forgive ourselves for our "sins," and hopefully this film inspires others to do so without punishing themselves or putting themselves in danger (by way of terrain, thirst, and threat of rape in the company of rough men on the outskirts) as does Cheryl.

WILD truly is an outstanding film, and credit goes to all involved — it is beautifully acted (special nods to the exceedingly naturalistic and effortless Laura Dern, the ever-underrated "redneck D'Onofrio" W. Earl Brown, and everyone in between — not least of all Reese, whose talents are on full display), artfully shot by visual poet Yves Bélanger (DALLAS BUYERS CLUB), seamlessly edited by Martin Pensa, and directed with a sure hand and expressive vision by Jean-Marc Vallée (also of DALLAS BUYERS CLUB, making him one to definitely keep an eye on if you enjoy humanistic dramas full of pathos and depth, judging by these consecutive films).

I can't recommend this film enough (especially if you live in a city and long to be transported to the WILD).