Dallas Buyers Club director Jean-Marc Vallée brings Cheryl Strayed’s autobiographical novel to life with Wild, an inspiring tale of Strayed’s painful yet life-affirming solo journey of more than one thousand miles across North America.
After countless personal traumas, Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) makes the decision to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, a long-distance hiking trail through the western states of America, alone as a way to heal herself of her pain. As she progresses, we bear witness to the touching and often heartbreaking memories deep in her mind that surface throughout her journey. Cheryl’s childhood, teenage years and the untimely death of her mother, played by Laura Dern, all feature heavily in these intermittent flashbacks, slowly building up the story behind Cheryl’s seemingly bizarre decision.
Where Witherspoon’s performance lacks, Dern’s is outstanding, her mere presence evoking a wide realm of emotions within the audience. Yet, with a running time of nearly two hours, Wild could quite easily have been cut down to a shorter length, in order to not draw out the repetitive and tiresome nature of the story any more than necessary.
The scenery of the western states is captured beautifully, and the soundtrack consisting primarily of 1960s hits set the mood of the film. The sound editing, transitioning between Cheryl’s humming, the singing playing out in her memories, and the music she hears on her journey, is superlative and undoubtedly one of the strongest elements of the feature.
The structure is unusual, but is effective in drawing on the emotions of Cheryl’s past, yet it appears on screen with a pretentious air about it at times. Nevertheless, Witherspoon and Dern give strong performances that keep this two hour feature standing where it would otherwise fall.