WILD

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Reviewed for Shockya by Harvey Karten. Data-based on Rotten Tomatoes.

Grade:  C+

Director:  Jean-Marc Vallee

Screenwriter:  Nick Hornby, based on Cheryl Strayed’s book

Cast:  Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski, Michiel Huisman, Gaby Hoffmann

Screened at:  Park Ave., NYC, 11/6/14

Opens:  December 5, 2014

We’ve all noticed the young women who wear three-inch heels and who admit that they hate to walk even down the block to the corner supermarket because their feet hurt.  Now think: what is the opposite of such a woman?  Why, Cheryl Strayed, of course, the author of a Number One New York Times best-seller which was selected for the Oprah book club.  The full title is “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.”  The book itself is no masterpiece of literature but a simply written travelogue of Ms Strayed’s external and internal trip, a three-months’ solo excursion from the Mexico border north to the Oregon-Washington border, a journey of 1,100 miles.  The trip, much of which involved her walk across the hot, dry Mojave Desert until she traversed the snow somewhere in the Sierras, continued to Ashland, Oregon where in 1995 she joined a group of troubadours who refused to admit that the sixties were gone, and then north to complete the journey.

The movie, like the Oprah-lauded book, is like a Hallmark card, the sort that appears targeted, like the memoir, to young women about Strayed’s age of 24.  You do not necessarily have to believe that she cured herself of her inner turmoil since, after all, wouldn’t we all indulge in such a venture if it were that easy?  And the movie exists primarily, in my opinion, as a study in crackerjack acting by Reese Witherspoon, but as an adventure, it fails to excite.  “Wild” is like a road trip wherein the passengers go where they have never gone before, run into an assortment of people on the way, and come back with stories to bore their friends and family.  And of course to put a kaleidoscope of pictures on Facebook.

Jean-Marc Vallée, who has directed the much better “Dallas Buyers Club” (about a man who works around protocol to get AIDS victims the help they need and who contracts the disease himself), puts Reese Witherspoon in virtually every frame.  Positing that her character became traumatized by the death of her mother (Laura Dern in a fine supporting role) at age 45, she turns to heroin and promiscuity—almost none of which shown in the film—and ultimately considers covering 1,100 miles on foot as a way to heal.  Physically, however, she is anything but healed on the trip, suffering broken toenails because of a pair of boots a size too small, several blisters and bruises partly as a result of wearing shorts, and what should have resulted in a hernia given the forty-pound backpack that includes a fold-away tent, a small bottle of iodine to purify water, some dried oatmeal and other bizarre dry meals.  However one wonders how someone could have left home to wander like Moses in the desert without a hat or a pair of shades.

The movie has comic moments, opening, in fact, with Strayed in a motel room trying to get that pack on her back but falling on her back and on her face in the attempt.  It’s no wonder that a fellow hiker named the pack “The Monster,” and of course since she is traversing the Pacific Crest Trail she runs into an assortment of people including a friendly farmer who drives her to his home where she meets his wife, gets a hot meal and a shower.  While narrowly avoiding the fangs of a rattlesnake, she becomes terrified when running into a pair of men who have lechery in their hearts (they don’t attack her).  But she is heartened at regular intervals to stop by a post on the PCT to receive a new pair of boots from REI along with a note from the ex-husband who remains surprisingly friendly with her on an epistolary level despite the breakup of a marriage caused by her serial cheating on him.

The only bit of real humor on the trail occurs when she meets a journalist whose job is to interview “hobos.”  Though she insists that she is not a hobo, the writer (Mo McRae) repeats that she is the first “lady hobo” he has met on the job.  The movie, heavy-handed with spiritualism—she regularly quotes Faulkner, Robert Frost, James Michener with voiceovers coming from her head—is graced with a fine performance from Witherspoon but as a narrative, it is little more than “Tried this, done that.”

Rated R.  115 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – C

Acting – B+

Technical – B

Overall – C+

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By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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