Dir: Jean-Marc Vallée (2014)
Cheryl Strayed‘s best selling novel Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found is the blueprint here for Dallas Buyers Club director Jean-Marc Vallée. Wild is the often beautiful, sometimes hallucinogenic document of Strayed’s epiphytic walk, alone, on the 1,100 mile Pacific Crest Trail after the death of her beloved mother from cancer in 1995. Resee Witherspoon plays Strayed; Drifting between fear and determination in the films journey sequences to volatile and downright explosive within Wild‘s many flashback sequences. If not handled with such poetry by Vallée the film could have easily veered off the path but some sharp, layered editing, beautiful cinematography and a fearsome performance from Witherspoon make the rambling Wild well worth your time.
Writer Nick Hornby and Vallée set about unravelling Strayed’s book; Shifting time around, painting a portrait of a woman’s life, off the rails, sucked under by grief. Laura Dern shines as Cheryl’s beaten but optimistic mother; Dancing in the kitchen, dishing out words of wisdom to her then focused bookish daughter. Later, Cheryl’s ex-husband, Paul (Thomas Sadoski) is as taken aback as we are with the star pupil’s fall from grace. A heroin junkie, courting men into the back alley for sex Cheryl hits rock bottom and flips a switch, determined for reasons perhaps only she can understand, to hike, unassisted for 3 months.
Where Sean Penn’s Into The Wild was fearful of mother nature, Strayed, Hornby and Vallée’s film ends up more like a comment on human nature. Every man, hiking or otherwise, is met with trepidation by Stayed; In one intense sequence a pair of drunk hunters linger around the young lady for a little too long and Strayed darts off into the woods. On the other hand she’s awarded and helped no end by her fellow hikers as the only solo woman on the trail but Hornby and Vallée over come the tepid Eat Pray Love sisters-doin-it-for-them-selves angle by creating a person, instead of a cookie cut “strong” woman.
Cinematographer Yves Bélanger, and editor, Martin Pensa are the unsung heroes of the piece, never letting Wild‘s rather clichéd emotional journey fall flat. The colours and angles change with the weather as do the flashback sequences and, apart from an absolutely shocking appearance from a computer generated fox, the whole thing looks wonderful. Wild shows a character, often helpless, always in pain and forever terrified of her past but her draw to the beauty of nature and her will to succeed stand as much larger themes. A well made, redemptive, non preachy adventure story; One which never hides it’s characters flaws, using them instead to feed the true purpose of the film, step by step by step by step by step…