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Review: Wild -“Serious, life-affirming and radical”


It’s raining. My boots hurt. I’m hungry. All of these things are very inconvenient, but trite in these circumstances. As Wild makes my complaints pale in comparison. For Wild is something that I have been waiting a long time for. Not because it’s a film centring on a struggle with personal demons – sex, drugs, death, pain, determination – that’s interesting, but hardly ground-breaking. It’s the triple whammy of the protagonist’s story being completely true, of her being a woman preoccupied with the relationship she has with her mother, and how she walks 1100 miles of wilderness on her own to heal, that made me sit up straight and pay attention.

Gender is completely irrelevant to the story, except that a female in this role is a rarity and should be applauded. However, for those potential viewers who will immediately rule out this film because there is a woman on the poster, it’s your loss. This protagonist – Cheryl Strayed, played by Reese Witherspoon, has no ordinary story. Directed by Jean-Mac Vallee (Dallas Buyer’s Club), the film makes use of what is becoming his trademark quick-cuts technique to flash forward and back between Strayed’s impressive one-woman journey and the outrageous past that led to it, including hefty drug abuse and three-way action. See? Worth watching for all.

The film begins gruesomely, with Strayed pulling away a big toenail as a result of her grinding endeavours – an opening scene as spot-on metaphor for her life story. But Wild is equally as life-affirming as it is soul-searching. Cheryl Stayed’s autibiography, adapted by Nick Hornby and produced by Reese Witherspoon’s production company is a study in strength. We follow Stayed as she walks a lonely, tough path through all weathers and moods. During her three-month walk discoveries are made by viewer and Strayed alike, what makes her tick and what drove her to tread this path.

It is, for once, entirely necessary for the gratuitous nature of some scenes, in order that Vallee can gradually unfold the plot. A film solely focusing on a walk of 1100 miles of the American Pacific Coast Trail alone would never make as good a movie as we have here. Yet another reason to watch is that Reese Witherspoon has never been better. This is a humdinger of a role, and she relishes every opportunity to break out of the pristine bubble that Hollywood has placed her in. It would be remiss not to also mention Laura Dern as Stayed’s mother Bobby – an integral part of the story. As a free spirit sheltering from darkness by basking in the simple pleasures of a sunset, she provides her own light. Thomas Sadoski (The Newsroom) also makes an excellent Paul, Stayed’s estranged husband, solidity in the midst of an emotional tornado.

In a similar vein to the underrated All is Lost, this movie opens the viewer up to the courage of life management while entirely alone.  The combination of Vallee’s  supreme skill (punching visuals at the audience, cutting from trauma to trauma to widescreen marshy abyss) and Witherspoon’s gutsy likeability elevates this film to something show-stopping with an ending that is almost unique.

Serious, life-affirming and radical while smashing the Bechdel test with ease, Wild is a must-see.


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