“There is a sunrise and a sunset every day and you can choose to be there for it. You can put yourself in the way of beauty.”
A movie from the director of Dallas Buyer’s Club. A movie starring one of America’s more recent Hollywood sweethearts, Reese Witherspoon. Wild is a movie that should have landed with a bigger splash and made more noise. But Wild is a movie I heard nothing about until Witherspoon’s Oscar nomination a few months ago. And I’ve heard little more about it since. But those few snippets of reviews I’ve read or heard have all been really positive. So why is Wild such a seemingly ignored movie?
Witherspoon is Cheryl, a woman setting out on a 1,000 mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail. Walking from Mexico to Canada, she obviously sets off with more than just the weight to her backpack on her shoulders. Flashing back and forth from her hike to various points in Cheryl’s past, we meet her mother (Laura Dern), her ex husband (Thomas Sadoski) and her friend Aimee (Gabby Hoffman). It’s obvious from her first steps that some level of guilt over the way she has treated these people, and probably others, is a big motivator of Cheryl’s trek.
Why did her marriage break up? What state was her relationship with her mother in? How is this 1,000 mile walk, the span of entire country, supposed to make up for any of Cheryl’s previous mistakes? The flashbacks shine plenty of light on that stuff, but Cheryl’s interactions with the people she meets in the present day, along the Pacific Crest Trail, are just as important in filling in that back story.
When I first heard of this movie, I couldn’t have had less interest in seeing it. Even writing the above synopsis made me realise how unbearable Wild sounds on paper. Someone going off on a journey of self discovery never sounds like a compelling story. Because stories of self discovery always seem so self indulgent and selfish. But then I realised why actors like Reese Witherspoon end up as successful as they do. Because actors like Reese Witherspoon can make this kind of material work.
Cheryl’s journey of self discovery is self indulgent and it is selfish. But Witherpsoon makes you feel all of those milestones along the way like you’re travelling with Cheryl. When she meets people on the trail, you’re happy when she meets the nice ones, your skin crawls when she meets the creepy ones. And when adversity gets in her way, it’s hard not get excited when she overcomes it
It might not have landed with much of a splash and made much noise on release, but Wild is a movie worth your time and attention. Witherspoon had already proven her acting ability plenty of times before this, but Wild really is something dark and unexpected from her. I also wouldn’t be surprised it’s the beginning of the next stage in her career as she ages out of cutesy roles (even though she still looks super young for her age) and gets a little meat to the characters she plays.