MPW-98689Wild (2014).

D: Jean-Marc Vallée. W: Nick Hornby. DP: Yves Bélanger. Starring: Reese Witherspoon/Laura Dern/Gaby Hoffman/Thomas Sadoski/Keene McRae/Michiel Huisman/Kevin Rankin. (Based on Cheryl Strayed’s memoir of the same name)

Setting out on the Pacific Crest Trail in 1995, beginning at Mojave and ending at the Bridge of the Gods, writer Cheryl Strayed attempted to literally walk the pain out of her life. This tremendous feat resulted in not only a new life, but a successful memoir and now a film.

Producing Wild under her Pacific Standard banner, Reese Witherspoon steps deftly into a role and world she championed through buying its source material. Witherspoon is a great balance of blonde Americana and twenties wayward whose grief over her mother’s death wrecks her life. She plays Strayed with the right amount of sugar you can imagine works to hide the grit inside. You can clearly see why this woman renamed herself Strayed.

Having read Strayed’s memoir I can say that Wild embraces its visceral quality into a cathartic and captivating film. All adaptations are difficult, but this one provides specific challenges as for the majority of the book Strayed is alone and grappling with her own fears and memories. Nick Hornby, in his first screenplay since 2009’s An Education, tackles this with aplomb. He is able to balance flashbacks, voiceover, inner monologue, and dialogue while synthesizing fellow hikers and trails into compelling elements that don’t merely feel like plot mile markers. Kudos must be given to the sound, music and editorial departments in blending music, voices, and sounds to generate meaning with and without images.

What was fearless about Cheryl’s journey was not only hiking this trail, but also going it alone as a woman. Witherspoon is mostly on her own here as well, though Laura Dern deftly supports her in her mother flashbacks scenes. Michiel Huisman is a delicious choice for Jonathan and is a nice contrast to Thomas Sadoski’s Paul. Gaby Hoffman, in a much deserved career resurgence also surfaces as one of Strayed’s friends. To be fair, she still has my heart from the Veronica Mars Movie.

Director Jean-Marc Vallée, known for Dallas Buyer’s Club, keeps this tight, reminding the audience that the story lies mostly in Strayed’s head not in the expansive landscape. Her hunger, thirst, and pain is on Witherspoon’s body yes, but is complimented by a camera without conventionality. Cinematographer, Yves Bélanger, evokes both his past films (his other being 2012’s Laurence Anyways) and is able to handle all the differently leveled moments in the script. Wild is genuinely not to be missed either in book or screen form. It remind you that even a little bravery goes a long way.

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