Due to the Toronto Film Festival’s new policy of reserving its opening weekend for North American premieres — a move specifically designed to stop Telluride’s “unofficial” premiers from stealing its thunder — “Wild,” the story of a woman finding herself on an 1,100-mile hike along the Pacific Coast Trail, won’t get most of its press until Monday. But the few who made the trek to (and paid the cost for) Telluride have confirmed that Witherspoon’s performance as Cheryl Strayed, who after her mother’s death and a tough divorce tumbled into drug addiction and high-risk sex before pulling her life out of its nosedive, is one of her best. The rest of the movie, though? Critics either see Jean-Marc Valée’s direction and Nick Hornby’s script narrowly skirting the clichés of self-help narratives or tumbling headlong into them. It sounds as if the news is good for anyone who’s been hoping for Witherspoon to get her groove back after her rocky post-Oscar track record. But those hoping for a great movie across the board might want to wait and hear from a few more parties.
Reviews of “Wild”
Justin Chang, Variety
Cheryl Strayed’s heartrending 2012 account of her 1,100-mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail presented no shortage of obstacles en route to the bigscreen, not least in the way it used the great outdoors as the backdrop for a resolutely interior journey. But director Jean-Marc Vallée, screenwriter Nick Hornby and star-producer Reese Witherspoon have met the challenge head-on with imperfect but rewarding results in “Wild,” a ruggedly beautiful and emotionally resonant saga of perseverance and self-discovery that represents a fine addition to the recent bumper crop of bigscreen survival stories.
Rodrigo Perez, Wild
A fascinating story, to be sure, but as re-imagined by screenwriter Nick Hornby and director Jean-Marc Vallée (“Dallas Buyers Club”), “Wild,” starring Reese Witherspoon, is a well-intentioned but misguided and occasionally even garish adaptation of Strayed’s memoir of the same name. Problematically for a story of spiritual redemption, the film never connects to authentic meaning.
Eric Kohn, Indiewire
It comes as no surprise that the movie version, starring Reese Witherspoon and directed by Jean-Marc Vallée from a script by British novelist Nick Hornby, hits plenty of poignant notes. But despite the powerful elements of Strayed’s real-life experiences, “Wild” goes out of its way to overstate the built-in sentimentalism.
Eric D. Snider, Complex
Without being anything like a screed or manifesto, “Wild” comes across as an empowering, emotional tale about a woman taking control of her downward-spiraling life. Many of her experiences are unique to womanhood, and some may only apply to Cheryl Strayed specifically. But there’s also a universality to it, a sense that anyone, male or female, could find inspiration in Cheryl’s it’s-the-journey-not-the-destination story. Witherspoon must have found strength in it, because it’s one of the mostly finely tuned performances she’s ever given.
Gregory Ellwood, HitFix
She gets dirty, she wades through creeks, she shows the extreme exhaustion of such a major trek, but it’s in the flashbacks that she truly shines. Often playing almost half her age, she has to bring Strayed to rock bottom in what could be constituted as a second arc for the character. Witherspoon is so good many will argue this is the best performance of her career. That may not be giving her work in “Mud” and “Walk the Line” its due, but “Wild” is clearly her most transformative work to date.