Wild (Fox Searchlight, R)

film wild_75Wild is a film that seems promising on paper, but in practice is uninvolving and a slight misfire.




film wild

As Wild opens against a black screen, the first thing you hear is what sounds like our main character, Cheryl (Reese Witherspoon), having an orgasm; we come to find out, though, that what she’s making are the sounds of distress, having walked hundreds of miles along the Pacific Crest Trail in ill-fitting boots. Not long after, we have the image track to alert us that Cheryl’s not making fornication noises, we are treated to a depiction of her disastrous feet, from which she peels off a whole toenail.

I hope you didn’t buy popcorn. That said, this opening scene is a good encapsulation of an overriding theme of the movie: the dichotomy of pleasure and pain. And to complete the above-described opening scene, Cheryl loses one of her boots down the side of a cliff, and gets pissed and throws the other one in as well, leaving her in the middle of nowhere with no shoes of any kind. Self-destruction is another big theme of this film.

Most of the pre-release talk I’ve heard about Wild, both from professional critics and regular moviegoers, is as it relates to other films—everyone’s claiming that it is like or sounds like anything from Into the Wild, Tracks, Eat Pray Love, or whatever else. This is all pretty well missing the point: Wild is its own thing. It’s adapted from Cheryl Strayed’s mega-bestselling 2012 memoir of the same name. The film is directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who did last year’s Dallas Buyers Club (a film I did not like), and was adapted for the screen by Nick Hornby, who might seem like a weird choice until you consider the excellent work he did on adapting another feminist text into a screenplay, An Education, back in 2009.

Vallée seems to be trying harder here than he did with Dallas Buyers, in that Wild plays at being nonlinear; in fact, the project on the whole begs for broad cinematic flourishes, given that nearly all of it takes place out in the wilderness of the Pacific coast. The premise is mostly simple: Strayed is walking the PCT alone, an unusual thing for a woman to do (especially one with no real hiking experience), and the film follows her as she does it. But the bigger picture concerns why Strayed is doing it, so we get some flashbacks to give insight into her relationship with her mother Bobbi (Laura Dern), her failed marriage, and a descent into serious drug addiction. One might surmise that Strayed goes on the Trail because she wants to “find herself,” that hoary trope of a lot of popular memoirs, but I took it to mean that she mostly wanted to be alone, which is an impulse to which I’m sympathetic.

But despite all of this talent and potentially interesting premise, the film doesn’t really work. Though it’s not bad, I was never as engaged with it as one would need to be to really call this film a success. Cheryl is painted as an intentionally dislikable, flawed character; while I appreciate that, I never found myself interested in her follies, either. And if you have the same problem you won’t like the movie, either, because that’s basically the whole thing: Cheryl Strayed and her foibles in life. Pepper it with some awfully glaring product placement (REI, Snapple), and you have this: Wild, a film that seems promising on paper, but in practice is uninvolving and a slight misfire. | Pete Timmermann

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