EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a capsule review. The full review will be released once the film hits theatres.
Scientifically built for maximum uplift, a more fitting title for Wild might have referenced forces of physics instead of nature. It’s the kind of film where said title pops up at the very end, tying things up in a nice thematic bow so that anytime you hear the word again, it’ll trigger a Pavlovian feeling of inspiration and accomplishment. Wild would be more frustrating for its transparent audience indulgence if it weren’t crafted by someone gifted in making such aims palatable. As he did with Dallas Buyers Club last year, director Jean-Marc Vallée takes a straw-haired, popular lead, throws them through a “based on a true story” wringer, and reaps entertaining results that are sure to please crowds and Academy voters alike.
Adapted from Cheryl Strayed’s memoir of cross-country self-discovery, Wild stars Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl, a recently divorced, recovering heroine addict looking to set her life straight by hiking 1,000 miles along the North American west coast. Witherspoon is no stranger to playing prickly women (she won an Oscar for such a role), but Wild paints an often-unflattering portrait of Strayed, even as it elides over the depth of her life’s traumas by trying to address all of them.
The surroundings and peril faced by present-day Cheryl are often more engaging than the ones she’s running away from. Vallée weaves in flashbacks as naturally as possible, but there are so many of them that you’ll often be itching to get back on the road, even when it means leaving behind a touching performance from Laura Dern as Cheryl’s mother. Wild is more geared towards being a satisfying emotional narrative than tale of physical endurance, but when Vallée balances both, such as when we wrap back around to the gnarly opening scene mid-film, Wild’s as strong and convincing as its lead performance.
The film's not nearly as adventurous as its heroine, but Wild accomplishes the inspiring task it sets for itself.