Saturday, 31 January 2015

Film Review: Wild (2014)

© 20th Century Fox  |  Source: fandango

USA; 115 min.; drama, adventure, biography
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Writing: Nick Hornby; based on the memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
Cinematography: Yves Bélanger
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Michiel Huisman, Mo McRae

“What if yes was the right answer instead of no? What if what made me do all those things everyone thought I shouldn't have done was what also had got me here? What if I was never redeemed? What if I already was?”  -- Cheryl Strayed

Wild is based on true events. When Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) loses her beloved mother Bobbi (Laura Dern) to cancer, her life begins to spin out of control. In order to escape drugs and promiscuity, she decides to travel at least 1,000 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail all on her own. The hiking route winding from California through Oregon and Washington up to British Columbia leads her through humid forests, snowy mountains, heated deserts, and, eventually, to self-discovery.

I was compelled by the trailer for Wild because it features breathtaking sceneries, an air of adventure and freedom, and, on top of these things, an intriguing story of affection between a woman and her mother. It hints at a tale of deep human relations, about pain and grief, about life and its hardships, and yet it conveys a zest for life that is truly captivating.

I can’t say that the actual film is any different. There are, indeed, spectacular views of nature’s beauty, and Cheryl’s solitary quest to finally cope with the tragedies in her life is a memorable adventure. It brings her in contact with all kinds of different people, from friendly and helpful to unpleasant and threatening. Her quest, however, is not only about the characters she meets, but much more about the obstacles she has to face all alone in the middle of nowhere. A heavy backpack, too-tight walking boots, rattle snakes, minimum food and water supply, no cell phone or internet connection to divert her – the film makes us aware of how used we have become to modern-day comforts and technologies, and how, in contrast to this, quiet contemplation can enrich our lives profoundly.

One of the things I enjoy most about Wild is the non-linear storytelling. Director Jean-Marc Vallée cleverly intertwines Cheryl’s hike with flashbacks from her self-destructive past as well as her childhood and teenage years. The impressions perfectly connect past and present stages of Cheryl’s life, help to gain a better understanding of her motivations and keep the narrative exciting. In addition to this, they bring across my favourite feature of the film: Cheryl’s relationship with her mother.

Although Reese Witherspoon is meant to carry the movie, it is Dern’s small yet heartfelt portrayal of Bobbi that is the true centrepiece of the movie. For my taste, Witherspoon, while being likeable enough to arouse my interest in her journey, lacks charisma and fearlessness to truly leave a vigorous impression. I find her portrayal too bland, too smooth and sweet, to reach me emotionally and fully allow me to believe her turmoil. I’m actually at a loss as to why her performance has generated so much awards buzz over the past few months when, for me, it really is the backdrop of Dern’s portrayal which gives Cheryl’s despair gravitas and the necessary amount of depth. However, I do applaud Witherspoon, who also functions as one of the producers of the film, for her efforts to bring Strayed’s autobiography to the big screen, especially since, sadly, intriguing stories with female leads are a rarity in the film business.

All in all, Wild is an intriguing, visually captivating portrayal of a woman’s grief and her brave way out of an emotional tragedy. It spreads an uplifting message about love and life, and makes us question how comfortable we really are in our state of material abundance. Unfortunately, the film cannot rely as much on its leading actress as it can on its unconventional way of storytelling and the engaging performance by a strong supporting actress.


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