Movie Review: Wild
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
by Jason Koenigsberg
Last year Jean-Marc Vallee directed Dallas Buyers Club, which became an awards season darling and won Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor Oscars. It seems that this director has found his calling and is attempting to do the same thing this year for Reese Witherspoon (and possibly Laura Dern in the supporting category) with his new film Wild.
This film, like Dallas Buyers Club, is based on a true story. Witherspoon plays Cheryl Strayed (obvious pseudonym), a woman who is searching for herself by abandoning society and trying to become one with nature during the mid-1990’s. She is consumed by loss of a loved one and regret with mistakes from her marriage. I am being vague with who she lost and what mistakes she made because even in films I find unrewarding experiences I do not want to ruin the enjoyment of certain surprises for moviegoers. Wild is structured in a non-linear format, it opens up with Cheryl tending to her feet in the middle of one of the hardest parts of her trek through the wilderness, then flashes back to moments with her family, friends, memories of her as a child, as a college student and most recently dealing with her marriage issues and a drug addiction.
Reese Witherspoon’s Cheryl makes a lot of mistakes on her long hike through the wilderness. Some I noticed the audience found endearing and humorous, most of them I just found to be stupidity on her part. Unlike Dallas Buyers Club the acting worked because it made me care about the characters and their struggle to stay alive with their affliction of AIDS. The actors really transformed into their character so despite any flaws the film had I was invested in their struggle. Wild I did not care as much about the main character because Ms. Witherspoon never really disappeared into her role, no matter how rugged and unattractive they tried to make her look, she still looked like Reese Witherspoon, meaning she still looked beautiful.
The acting is slightly above par in most cases, but with so many better movies out in the multiplexes now, I cannot in good conscience recommend a film that left me cold with themes that have been tackled much better in previous pictures. It does explore some feminist issues about how unusual it was for a woman to be taking this hike alone without a man and she has some encounters with both very kind and unsavory strangers along her journey. The cinematography is serviceable but not breathtaking. We have seen so many more glorious shots of nature in much better films, in particular ones directed by Terrence Malick, John Boorman and Peter Jackson.
Ultimately Wild left me feeling I had just seen a shameless attempt at Hollywood star Reese Witherspoon desperately trying to receive an Oscar or at the very least a Best Actress nomination. I saw right through it. She has been slumming it a little while in dull romantic comedies that do not really challenge her and are quick paychecks. She already won a well-deserved Oscar for her portrayal of June Carter-Cash in the 2005 Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line. She does not need another one to sit on her shelf next to it.
This is a vanity project for critics and audiences to take her seriously and say that she took a challenging role. Ms. Witherspoon never fully committed to the role at least not enough to convince me that her Hollywood starlet image was really roughing it in the wilderness. All the scenes of her screaming out loud with nothing around except nature have been done before and done better in other man vs. nature films.
If you want to see actors take on sociological experiments or tackle nature you can do much better. From Walkabout (1971) to Deliverance (1972) all the way up to Into the Wild (2007) have all dealt with the similar concepts and are much better acted and directed pictures. Check out the trailer for Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout a film I consider to be a masterpiece about people used to the benefits of civilization being suddenly stripped away and forced to survive in a harsh state of nature.
Side note: if you are intrigued to see Wild because you heard Ms. Witherspoon is nude, skip it. She made her nude debut back in the first 5 minutes of the Robert Benton bore Twilight (1998) and that scene was much better lit than anything you will see of her in Wild.