Monday, December 22, 2014

Wild - 3 1/2 stars

Based on the bestselling memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, this is about how Cheryl Strayed hiked 1,100 miles by herself as a way to overcome her demons.  After losing her mother to cancer, she became a heroin addict and ruined her marriage.  So the hike was like a form of therapy or a spiritual cleanse for her.

Reese Witherspoon gives her best performance in years as Cheryl.  As the movie opens, she’s sitting on a mountain and taking her boots off.  Her boots are too tight, and one of her toenails is almost completely ripped off.  She accidentally loses a boot, and after yelling a very appropriate obscenity, she hurls the other boot down the mountain.

As she hikes along the Pacific Coast Trail, we learn about her past through flashbacks.  We see her relationship with her mother, and we see how devastating a loss that was for her.  We see her starting to hook up with random guys and getting into drug use, and the effect that has on her husband. 

She wasn’t an experienced hiker when she began the journey, and she does things like bringing the wrong kind of fuel for her camp stove or running out of water.  But the most dangerous encounters are with other hikers.  Some are friendly and happy to help, others not so much.  As a man, I don’t normally give much thought to what it must be like to be a woman and on your own.  But watching this movie, I felt her fear whenever she encountered a man and had to figure out his intentions.  The encounter that sticks with me the most is when she ran into two hikers right after running out of water.  A couple of simple jokes about her being by herself and very attractive make her nervous and uncomfortable, and she can’t relax until she’s sure they have left her alone.

The movie did a good job of showing Cheryl’s transformation without hitting you over the head with it.  There’s no big emotional moment where the soundtrack swells and she has some profound realization, like in Eat, Pray, Love.  Although to be honest, I don’t remember Eat, Pray, Love that well but I’m pretty sure there was some sappy over the top stuff like that. 

In this movie, I don’t even remember much of a soundtrack.  Sometimes less is more, and this movie has a stripped down quality, that makes it even more profound and life-affirming.  This is a really good movie.

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