A thousand mile walk is long and tedious. So is Wild.
Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) sets out to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs from the Mexican border to the Canadian border. She spends three months on the trail, covering 1,100 miles, to reset her life. Cheryl’s issues are examined in numerous flashbacks.
The scenery is gorgeous. From the sparse vegetation and rattlesnakes of the desert to the verdant woodlands and foxes of the mountains, Wild gloriously displays the beauty of nature. Director Jean-Marc Vallée contrasts the peace and serenity of the trail to the tumult and pain of Cheryl’s personal life.
Her father was abusive. Her mother (Laura Dern) left her husband, took her 2 kids and raised them to embrace the joys of life, no matter the circumstances. When Cheryl’s mother dies from a fast-moving cancer, Cheryl’s personal problems intensify. She becomes promiscuous and shoots heroin. Cheryl and husband Paul (Thomas Sadoski) try to work through her infidelities. Although they have split, he sends her supplies along the hike and offers encouragement.
Reese Witherspoon lets down her vanity and lets viewers see her raw with no makeup (and in the raw in some of the scenes of her downward spiral before the hike. Although she brings condoms galore in her backpack, in the film she only has one hookup along way.) Reese’s Cheryl goes from a clueless rube as she begins her odyssey to a seasoned, more confident woodsman as she reaches Washington state. An emotional conversation with a young child she meets on the trail near the journey’s end is designed to trigger audience tears.
Call me insensitive, but I was way more interested in the trek and the people and situations she encounters along the trail than I was in Cheryl’s backstory. Watching a novice hiker take on this immense challenge is, for me, a chance to live vicariously on a long-distance hike that I will never have the time or energy to do.
While the print version of Cheryl Strayed’s memoir was universally praised, the telling of her life events via flashbacks on the movie screen fails to elicit the necessary level of emotional investment from me to make this movie one I can embrace to the degree others have. Wild has its moments, but, for me, it’s not “special.”