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Award season reviews: Wild

A film for which even the trailer made me cry? That’s my next review: Wild.

I didn’t expect it, but the line “my mother was the love of my life” just gets me every time.

On the surface, Wild is the ever so slightly predictable and simple story of a girl with a turbulent past deciding to walk 1000 miles in order to find herself, but it offers so much more than that and is actually based on the memoir of Cheryl Strayed entitled Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Cheryl (played by Reese Witherspoon), is a studious and sensible teenager, that is until her mother Barbara ‘Bobbi’ Grey (Laura Dern) becomes ill and tragically dies. Cheryl turns to drugs and casual sex with strangers to numb her painful grief. After a destructive marriage and painful divorce Cheryl decides to walk the 1,100 mile Pacific Crest Trail in an attempt to find herself and become the woman her mother always believed she could be.

At the time of the trek Cheryl was a 26 year old who had lived a hundred years and with Witherspoon being almost 15 years her senior, you can see all this hardship in her performance. The most difficult part is seeing Laura Dern as her mother being only 10 years her senior. You get the impression these two are best friends, or sisters rather than mother and daughter, but that’s perhaps kind of the point. Despite this, the film, aided with Witherspoon’s performance, manages to distract.

The film is displayed in a non-linear style, the present narrative is the trek but this is constantly interrupted with flashbacks to Cheryl’s disruptive and reckless endeavors in her past. The Cheryl that you’re first introduced to, as she starts the trail, is not the Cheryl you see during the flashbacks, so it’s a great way of having the audience take a journey to get to know Cheryl just as she gets to know herself and a very clever way of organising the narrative by the writers. But it’s Witherspoon’s perfect acting ability that allows you to gradually connect with and admire Cheryl. During the first few miles she’s naive, clueless and almost helpless, with every obstacle she faces almost making her quit and you sympathise, it all looks like so much hard work.  Every mile seems painful, every step is an effort but the more we see of her past and the more miles she covers, the more confidence we have in her ability and utter desire to finish the 1,100 miles and we’re as determined for her to finish as she is herself. Towards the end it seems second nature for her to push on and not even entertain the thought of quitting, how we’d all love to be.

The internal monologue provides a nice insight into Cheryl’s mentality during the walk, without forcing Witherspoon to do something (speaking every thought out loud) that’s unnatural to most of us.  And it’s from these moments we take the most away from Wild.

It’s not just a film about a girl with a reckless past wanting to find her good, virtuous self in the wilderness. It’s the catastrophic effect of grief and how freeing it could be to truly embrace it and then leave it behind. It’s chasing something that’s unfamiliar and scary but still chasing because it feels right, seeing a future that could be anything, not just what we’re told it to be and being thankful for mistakes, for lows, wrongdoings and owning your enjoyment of them, without trying to erase them because they’ve got you to where you are. It’s a life changing watch and at 26, to accomplish such a momentous life journey, along with the 1,100 miles, is truly inspiring. A story worth a watch and worth a read.

Whilst I don’t believe she’s fulfilled her acting potential in pervious roles Witherspoon, I feel, reaches her peak here. She’s not been an actress that I’ve felt I could connect with before but she completes this within this film. But it’s the story that resonates with me the most. I just loved the idea of a world outside of the world we know, like there’s a whole other life out there full of beauty, nature and self discovering that doesn’t involve paying bills, working meaningless jobs or Facebook. But, to my surprise, it received few nominations. Director Jean-Marc Vall­ée received much praise and countless accolades for Dallas Buyers Club but unfortunately gets little recognition for Wild with the only Oscar nomination going to Witherspoon and while she demonstrates a sincere and integral performance, she’ll struggle to single handedly drive Wild out from the wilderness and to the winning podium, come award night.


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