Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee
“Wild” is this year’s “Dallas Buyers Club,” and not just because they share director Jean-Marc Vallee. Both tell incredible true stories you probably hadn’t heard about. Both show the raw, honest, and sometimes grim realities of life and death. And both possess Oscar-caliber scripts and acting performances. But can “Wild” walk away with the awards “Dallas Buyers Club” was able to win (namely, an acting win for its virtuosic lead, Reese Witherspoon)? Or even some that it didn’t (like one for writing, or, dare I say it, Best Picture)? Will Witherspoon continue what some are now calling a Reese-aissance (this year, she also had a role in “Inherent Vice” and produced the popular “Gone Girl”)? We can’t possibly know. That’s the beauty of awards season.
In 1995, Cheryl Strayed (Witherspoon) set off on the Pacific Crest Trail to take a 1,100-mile solo hike in order to walk away from her past, and found herself along the way. As she makes her way through desert, water, and snow, we’ll see her flashback to her single mom’s (an unnervingly good Laura Dern) life and death, her failed marriage to the man she cheated on several times (Thomas Sardoski, “The Newsroom”), and other rough patches that led to her decision to hike her way to sanity.
I’ll be superbly disappointed if “Wild” doesn’t receive at least an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. I haven’t read Cheryl’s memoir about her hike, but now I definitely plan on it. “Wild” is an abbreviated version of what I imagine is a very complete, revealing story. It’s like a Reader’s Digest condensed adaptation of the book – it packs so much into its two hours. The screenplay, by Nick Hornsby (“About a Boy”) is beautiful and intelligent, but also compelling. I never expected a two-hour movie about one woman hiking through the desert to be so funny, touching, and interesting, but “Wild” defies expectations.
Witherspoon has walked the line to an Oscar before, and she’s sure to be the clear front-runner this year. She holds back nothing to show what Cheryl’s life had become that made her make such a brash decision. Hiking, especially for someone who had never hiked that far before, is not the picture of cleanliness and beauty. Cheryl (and therefore, Reese) got dirty, talked to herself, and made some questionable decisions in the name of survival. Before her enlightening walk, Cheryl experimented with drugs, slept around, anything to help her fill the gap that her mother’s death left. Witherspoon couldn’t have been better. She embodied everything that Cheryl Strayed was during that transitional time in her life.
“Wild” is far from a one-woman show, but Reese Witherspoon takes what could have been a difficult adaptation and makes it one of the best movies of the year.