Cheryl: Finish that sentence.
Jean-Marc Vallée’s latest film, WILD, announces the triumphant return of Reese Witherspoon to prestige acting. She is electric in WILD and she lets you know it within the first few frames of the film. As she watches her hiking boots plummet down a ravine from the top of a mountain she has spent all day climbing, she lets out a scream you know is about so much more than her boot disaster. The ride that she and Vallée (DALLAS BUYERS CLUB) subsequently take us on is a wild one indeed, and one that won’t be forgotten so easily afterwards either.
Everybody hurts but not everybody walks it off. WILD is based upon the true life account of one Cheryl Strayed, a woman who walked 1,100 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail, which stretches from California to Canada, to leave her tormented past behind her. After the unexpected death of her mother (played here by a luminous, Laura Dern), Strayed lost all feeling inside. She began abusing heroine and sleeping with any man who asked, despite being married to a loving husband (Thomas Sadoski), all to forget the pain she was feeling deep inside of her over the loss of the woman she loved most in her life. Witherspoon captures all of this perfectly, giving herself to everything the film demands – the physicality of it, the dirtiness of it, the crippling despair and even, occasionally, the moments of release and joy. I would say that she hasn’t been this good in years but the truth is Witherspoon has never been this good, period.
WILD may sound very similar to last year’s TRACKS, featuring Mia Wasikowska walking the Australian outback, but Vallée’s film is far more accessible (which is not a bad thing here), and there are no camels in this one. Regardless, WILD stands on its own because of its beautiful central performance, the breathtaking mountain scenery and the respectful manner in which the story is told. Working together brilliantly, Vallée and screenwriter, Nick Hornby, find a way to portray a singular experience and make it feel universal.