In execution, it’s as captivating and intense as Cheryl Strayed’s story, though with one defining flaw.
Movie Review #1,018
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Adventure, Biography, Drama
1 hour, 55 minutes
Rated R (sexual content, nudity, drug use, and language)
Released January 2, 2015
Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée
Screenplay by Nick Hornby
From the memoir “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail” by Cheryl Strayed
Starring Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Gaby Hoffmann, Thomas Sadoski, Keene McRae, and Michiel Huisman
Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) is a woman who acts on emotion rather than reason. That explains her former lifestyle of heroin addiction and sleeping around. It’s when her life starts to go downhill that she decides to take a step back. She’s financially unstable. Her marriage is falling apart. She’s had to abort an unwanted pregnancy that resulted from one of her many affairs. The breaking point, however, is when her mother dies of cancer. Strayed decides she wants to put everything behind her, and uses her irrationality for the better, this time: she’ll hike 1,000 miles on the Pacific Coast Trail, because that will be enough to clear her mind and help her start anew.
Under the command of progressivist director Jean-Marc Vallée (“Dallas Buyers Club”), the film handles its range of heavy subject matters with deep and emotional impact. Cheryl’s difficulty in enduring her hike is channeled in our own endurance of the film. In the very first scene, we watch Strayed pull the nail off her big toe. Although I’m practically desensitized to grotesque imagery in movies, I still cowered. It’s a sight that gives the piss-drinking scene in “127 Hours” a run for its money. There’s a multitude of equally revolting, if only momentary, scenes throughout the film depicting Strayed’s sex and drug addictions in full form. It’s not the easiest film to watch, and it tends to be a slow burner, but it’s no less an interesting watch.
“Wild” is every bit the strongest example of a feminist film since “Erin Brockovich”. It’s well-anchored by Reese Witherspoon’s performance. She depicts Strayed in various states of mind throughout various stages of her life. If there’s any doubt of the actress’s versatility, the film renders it invalid. However, “Wild” crosses a line. It’s feminist, but it’s also somewhat misandrist–thus triumphantly combatting one form of sexism while lightly promoting another. There’s not one truly admirable male character in the movie. Each and every one is ultimately depicted as either sketchy, unambitious, or misogynist. Whether this is indeed true to Strayed’s story, I’m not sure. If she took away from her experience a message that “men are bad,” that’s one thing. Witnessing it secondhand, I’d rather not find that sort of discriminatory message in any movie.