In Jean-Marc Vallée’s “Wild,” opening Wednesday, Reese Witherspoon stars as Cheryl Strayed, the writer who walked 1000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail in order to find herself. Witherspoon, a Best Actress contender who also co-produced both “Wild” and “Gone Girl,” ably carries this movie, without makeup, vanity-free. But the person who also deserves a round of applause is Nick Hornby, who did a great job adapting the book, which I did not read.
(Read Vulture’s moving, in-depth profile of Strayed and her “Wild” journey here, and watch press conference and Witherspoon videos below.)
This movie could easily have degenerated into self-help cliche as this lonely woman carrying an impossibly heavy pack perseveres over three months in heat and rain and snow, hearing animal scurries in the night, wearing too-small hiking boots that she loses on one mountain, continuing on with socks and duck-taped sandals until a replacement set arrives at a ranger station– where the attractive woman is hit on by yet another leering man.
As she walks, she flashes back to memories of the mother she lost to cancer (an excellent and moving Laura Dern, who is likely to land a supporting actress Oscar nomination) as well as her own addictions to crack and heroin and sex, and the husband she left and loved (“Newsroom” star Thomas Sadowski).
What’s good about this movie may make it a quiet success for Fox Searchlight: it feels genuine, and heartfelt, and true. It does not dwell on histrionics nor does it tug at heartstrings in a manipulative way, although it is moving indeed. And it isn’t every day that a director so identifies with his subject that his eyes well up with tears (see our Telluride video interview here). 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.)
My guess is that actors will also respond to Witherspoon’s performance and grant her a Best Actress slot.