“If your nerve deny you, go above your nerve.”
From first glance, Wild may seem like the kind of movie with a mind-blowing epiphany at the end, the kind of movie about oneness with nature or about a walk through an all-healing wilderness. However, it seems to be more about acceptance than it is about redemption, acceptance of who Cheryl Strayed is, every single ugly aspect–e.g. heroin addiction–included. At one point in the film, she asks: “What if I forgive myself? What if I was sorry?” Then, she goes on: “But if I could go back in time, I wouldn’t do a single thing differently. What if all those things I did were the things that got me here?” Ultimately, the walk is about life in general, about the hardships and the beauty and the ugliness that follow you wherever you go, and it’s about confronting and experiencing the world in its most natural form.
To tell this story, Jean-Marc Valée and Nick Hornby–and cinematographer Yves Belanger–take us through the mind of Cheryl Strayed, opting for a fluid, stream of consciousness-type narrative as we cut between memories and the present. While Valée and Hornby do rely a bit too much on this technique, it’s certainly effective at sketching who Cheryl is and what her past was like. Laura Dern is sublime here as Cheryl’s mother, and it is her and her only who keeps these flashbacks from becoming grating; her bubbly optimism shines brightly and has its place in each and every scene, and her moving and lovely performance has me missing Enlightened all over again.
Witherspoon is also great here, finding nuance where some may have gone for over-emoting. Cheryl is a determined and intelligent individual, but she’s also flawed and pained and vulnerable; Witherspoon’s best acting shines through when we simply observe her on her own, walking or putting together a tent or trudging through the snow. However, the film is quick to pull her toward others, most likely because it’s afraid that focusing on her aloneness will render the film too “boring” for its audience (sadly, that is probably the correct assumption). The film also loads up a bit on the voiceover where silence would be more effective, but then again, we gotta know the themes of the movie, man.
In the end, though, Wild finds beauty in small moments, and Cheryl Strayed’s journey is presented with care and without judgment. It is flawed, but it is an experience worth having. Most importantly, it solidifies the fact that there is no way in hell I’m going to walk the Pacific Crest Trail.
-Hey, it’s Dan Dority! And Kenny from Breaking Bad/Herc from Friday Night Lights! And Sonny from Treme/Cal from Orphan Black! And Caroline from Girls/Ali from Transparent! W. Earl Brown, Kevin Rankin, Michiel Huisman, and Gaby Hoffmann all show up in the movie, and while they don’t have much to do, they’re all very good in small roles.
-I have not read the book yet, but it looks like an interesting read. I would be intrigued to read what Strayed herself has to say.
-Perhaps the best Dern acting moment: Cheryl, at one point, tells her mother: “It must be strange that I’m so much more sophisticated than you”. Bobbi’s reaction is heartbreaking.
-Lots of music throughout, most notably Simon and Garfunkel’s “El Condor Pasa”. There’s also some “Red River Valley” at the end in a pretty moving scene.
-Aside from a torn toenail, Strayed is remarkably well off for someone who walks thousands of miles. She gets, like, 3 patches of dirt on her the whole way.
-Most of the tension is derived from figuring out the level of creepiness of certain men Cheryl comes across. It’s understandable because that’s a very real fear–I don’t want to understate the necessity of showing us some of those encounters–but I would’ve been interested to see something else at times.
-The funniest scene: Cheryl gets interviewed by a reporter for The Hobo Times.
– “FUCK YOU, BITCH!” –Reese Witherspoon to her shoe
Photo credit: Wild, Fox Searchlight Pictures