Rating: 4/5 stars
The cinema cringes. A screaming Reese Witherspoon has just pulled off a bloodied toe nail in the opening scene of Wild and thrown her shoes off a cliff.
Through-out, Oscar-nominated Witherspoon gives the performance of her career in Jean-Marc Vallée’s powerful adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s bestselling memoir.
In the aftermath of her mother’s death from cancer in 1991, Cheryl succumbs to her grief and takes a hedonistic fall into drug abuse and casual sex with anyone but her husband.
Following their divorce and an accidental pregnancy she quits the drugs and decides to make a change to become the “daughter her mother raised.”
To do so she decides to walk the Pacific Crest Trail alone. In 1995, the 26-year-old Cheryl finished the 1,100 mile hike that runs through California from Mexico to Canada.
Vallée and script writer Nick Hornby create a hallucinatory montage of Cheryl’s trip through the wilderness and capture her memories; woven together with the songs, quotes, and poetry that she recited to herself as she walked.
Hornby’s script also gives a different, much tougher version of Cheryl’s character than the one in the book. Cheryl carries a monstrous backpack that weighs more than she does, encounters a rattlesnake, and wakes up covered in frogs after falling asleep next to a pond.
Witherspoon liked the memoir so much that she bought the film rights for it, and she gives a gutsy performance as Cheryl. At 38, she is however a bit too old for the role, making Laura Dern (age 47) in the role of her mother, seem more like a sister.
Nevertheless, the two actresses brilliantly portray the close bond between mother and daughter and Witherspoon proves again that she can do more than just playing the dumb blonde.
It could easily have ended up as a pretentious and depressing film, but with Witherspoon as the self-loathing Cheryl, it is full of funny, inspiring, and heart-warming moments.