I walked into Wild solely off the fact I really like Reese Witherspoon as an actress and I love films showing off American scenery. I had absolutely no idea it was based on a true story until the end credits. So my perception of the film is coloured by my taking of it as purely fictional until the credits rolled.
Witherspoon delivers the performance of a career in Wild, vastly outclassing the rest of the cast. The only one that comes close to her is Laura Dern, who I was amused to see in this since she was the star of David Lynch’s “WILD at Heart” years ago).
Cheryl Strayed’s struggle with her sense of self, and her mother’s death, forms the thematic backbone of the movie, and the frequent flashbacks seem necessary to prop that up, but I do feel a few of them strayed too far into the expository side. The flashbacks featuring Dern were sometimes the strongest, thanks to Dern’s acting and the emotive content, but during some of the more dialogue-laden ones I found myself wishing we’d cut back to Strayed’s present-day (in a sense) adventures. I really liked some of the more purely visual flashbacks that exhibited more of a natural connection to the way people actually remember things. They were definitely a better choice than a straight linear narrative from a young Cheryl to a hiking Cheryl; that would have been awful pacing-wise, and I liked how the non-linear flashback structure was done in a more daring style than most films that use a similar format, in that many of them were more visual and disconnected to the audience at first, more accurately reflecting the way Cheryl’s mind would be working at that point.
The film was beautiful visually; cinematographer Yves Bélanger and director Jean-Marc Vallée did fantastic work bringing out the beauty Cheryl encountered along the PCT. The usage of natural light (Bélanger claiming around 95% of the film used purely natural light) can’t have been easy, but worked so fantastically to put the viewer in Cheryl’s shoes in that it realistically reflected how it would have looked to her, and strayed away from an overwrought or dramatic “movie” look. Witherspoon’s eyes reflected the natural environment beautifully and I assume that was accomplished in part from the lack of artificial lighting. Truly, the only overly artificial moment of the film I can think of was the fox, but having to use CGI animals is hardly strange or lazy.
I feel the ending was a tad abrupt, but it wrapped up Cheryl’s story well enough. Overall, a very strong film about struggling to come to terms with tragedy and one’s self, performed brilliantly by Witherspoon, and being a delight to view in bask in thanks to the incredible visual work done.
I give it four heavy backpacks, and an abandoned shoe.