It isn’t every day that a director is so identified with his subject that his eyes well up with tears. Something about Cheryl Strayed’s redemption and rediscovery hit deep inside Montreal director Jean-Marc Vallée, 51, who understood the impact that the loss of a parent can have on anyone, man or woman. (He lost his own mother to cancer three years ago.)
Vallée is a naturalistic director (his favorites include Clint Eastwood, Steven Soderbergh and Jacques Audiard) who is not afraid of deep emotion, extreme behavior, long takes, digital cameras or natural light. "Dallas Buyer’s Club" played Toronto last year and wound up in the Oscar race, winning acting Oscars for Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto. Will history repeat with Reese Witherspoon, who persuaded Strayed to give her the movie rights to her 74-week New York Times bestseller, and hoisted a 75-pound pack ("the monster") as the writer did, hiking in the heat and cold on the Pacific Crest Trail, makeup free, and Laura Dern, who movingly portrays Strayed’s less sophisticated but loving and ever-optimistic mother?
Witherspoon developed this material herself with writer Nick Hornby ("An Education"). The movie debuted Labor Day weekend in Telluride, with book-booster Oprah Winfrey on hand. (TOH! review here.)
While Fox Searchlight has Oscars in mind, the distrib won’t miss a trick pushing the movie out not only to core Strayed fans (who are 50/50 men and women) but book groups and hikers and everyone in between. Searchlight will start to build on the Telluride buzz on Monday night in Toronto.
I spoke to Vallée in Telluride, below, who’s already prepping a September 15 start for his next, "Demolition," starring Jake Gyllenhaal as an investment banker who loses his wife in a car crash and tries to rediscover his emotional mojo. Naomi Watts costars.