Saturday, February 14, 2015

Wild (2014)

Review #1,139






THE SCOOP
Director:  Jean-Marc Vallee
Cast:  Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Gaby Hoffmann
Plot:  A chronicle of one woman's 1,100-mile solo hike undertaken as a way to recover from a recent catastrophe.

Genre:  Biography / Drama
Awards:  Nom. for 2 Oscars - Best Leading Actress, Best Supporting Actress.
Runtime:  115min
Rating:  M18 (cut!) for sexual content, nudity, drug use, and language.

IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
“How wild it was, to let it be.”

Director Jean-Marc Vallee follows up on his acclaimed drama Dallas Buyers Club (2013) with a starring vehicle for Reese Witherspoon.  Wild is almost as good, though it is more fiercely personal in its storytelling and character study.  Its non-linear narrative is fresh and inspiring, part of the reason why the film remains fairly compelling for two hours.  It is difficult to make a film about a woman's 1,100 mile hike across the Pacific Crest Trail and turn it into something that is more than just that. 

Witherspoon plays Cheryl, who embarks on the life-changing, or perhaps life-affirming, hike to find the inspiration and will to carry on living.  This is after a catastrophe hits her, causing her to struggle to find meaning in her existence.  Of course, this is adapted from a memoir written by the real Cheryl Strayed – “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail” by novelist-screenwriter Nick Hornby (An Education, 2009).

It is a remarkable story of perseverance and the desire to not quit.  In some odd way, it reminds me of Danny Boyle's 127 Hours (2010), about the true story of Aron Ralston, a mountain climber who got his arm stuck between a boulder and a rock wall with no civilization in sight.  He had to resort to extreme measures to attempt to save himself. 

Boyle's trademark energetic, free-flowing style lends the film a hip and cool vibe.  As a comparison, Wild is rather similar in approach, playing with narrative non-linearity, but is far less kinetic.  It is also less frenzying. 

The plot may revolve around the long, arduous hike, but the focus is on the bits and pieces that Vallee feeds us.  Little by little, we get a clearer picture of Cheryl’s problems, regrets, and also, joy.  By getting to see her life unfold in parts through flashback, we get to piece everything together, fuelling new meaning to her hike. 

The Canadian director is on a roll, and if Wild and Dallas Buyers Club don't impress you at all, I'm sorry to hear that.  I am looking forward to his next work Demolition, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Naomi Watts. 

It is already in post-production, and speaking of that, Vallee co-edits his films too under a pseudonym.  I would love to have seen Wild nabbed an Oscar nomination for Best Film Editing, because the editing is that good, particularly its skillful use of cross-cutting for emotional and psychological impact.  Oh well…

Verdict:  An emotional journey into the wilderness backed by a strong turn by Reese Witherspoon, and an inspired non-linear narrative.

GRADE: B+ (8/10 or 3.5 stars)






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