Wild Review
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Last year, director Jean-Marc Vallée directed both Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto to Oscars for their jaw-dropping performances in the real-life drama Dallas Buyers Club. In his follow-up, Wild, he tells a simple story of healing and redemption that’s driven by another strong performance from a beloved star.

Wild was inspired by the best-selling memoir by Cheryl Strayed (who’s played in the film by Reese Witherspoon). After the death of her mother (Laura Dern) sends her life into a downward spiral, Cheryl finally hits rock bottom. Determined to get her life back on track, she decides to set out on a three-month, 1,000-mile hike from the Mexican border to the Canadian border along the Pacific Crest Trail. And as she struggles with the elements and the ever-changing terrain, she also takes the time to battle her own demons.

It may follow along on Cheryl’s physical journey through deserts and downpours, but Wild focuses more on the emotional journey than on the physical one. The hike is definitely grueling—and Cheryl’s determination to accomplish her 1,000-mile goal in spite of snowstorms and fatigue and the creepy hunters that she meets along the way is certainly inspiring. But this isn’t an adventure movie—and it isn’t exactly action-packed.

The real story, then, is more of an internal one. It’s told in brief flashbacks and snippets of memories—Cheryl’s recollections of her abusive father, her mother’s strength and positivity, and the moments of self-destruction that led to her life-changing expedition. This isn’t a complete story—just bits and pieces, told in random order. And while it still gives an idea of the baggage that Cheryl is carrying with her, the lack of details makes it feel a bit distant, as if Cheryl is allowing a few shocking glimpses into her troubled past—sex, drugs, damaged relationships, a broken marriage—while still keeping her audience at an arm’s length.

Really, it’s Witherspoon who gives the film its depth and personality. Far from her typical cutesy comedies and lovable girl-next-door roles, her performance as Cheryl has more grit—yet she also gives the character a certain amount of sweetness and vulnerability to keep her from becoming unlikable, even in her most destructive moments. With another actress in the role, Cheryl could have come off as bitter and hardened. Instead, she’s simply a broken young woman who needs 1,000 miles of hiking and reflection to help get her life back on track.

Wild isn’t the grueling wilderness adventure that some viewers might be expecting—because the hike itself isn’t especially eventful. And the emotional aspects of the story often feel surprisingly reserved. But, in the end, the endearing star helps to make the film less arduous than the journey itself.

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