Front Row at the Movies
Reese Witherspoon Does Walkabout In "Wild"
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
We often talk about Hollywood stars who can "carry" a movie. Well, Reese Witherspoon has joined those ranks.
Being the only person on screen for long stretches of "Wild," Witherspoon will either hold your attention or lose you. Fortunately, her gritty, honest performance latches onto you like mud that’s difficult to wash off.
Witherspoon -- once the dainty princess in those "Legally Blonde" movies -- proves she can carry a backpack too.
Following a bad divorce and the death of her mother, Cheryl Strayed (played by Witherspoon) decides to take a thousand-mile trek along the Pacific Coast National Scenic Trail, walking from the California desert to Oregon all by herself.
"Wild" is playing at the Tropic Cinema if you want to join her on this arduous journey of self-discovery.
Based on a book by Cheryl Strayed, "Wild" falls somewhere between "a grief memoir and a travelogue." This solitary walkabout is fueled by a bit of advice from her late mother about "putting yourself in the way of beauty."
In the movie, Reese Witherspoon does just that, presenting a panting, sweaty, unglamorous hiker confronting a panorama of scenic wonder -- majestic mountains, snow-covered vistas, lakes, verdant forests, ribbons of highway, rock-strewn trails.
Fact is, a person’s troubles do get kinda dwarfed when put against the vast backdrop of Mother Nature.
In the wilderness, a torn toenail takes on greater significance than her once-upon-a-time sex life. Needless to say, the men she encounters along the way are somewhat taken aback to see a lone woman hiking in the wilderness.
Cheryl’s journey is punctuated with free-associative memories about her childhood, her disintegrating marriage, her relationships, offering up more of a mosaic of her life than a connect-the-dots plotline. Her mother (played by Laura Dern) appears almost as a magical apparition in her on-the-trail memories.
Closely following the book’s structure, director Jean-Marc Vallée ("Dallas Buyers Club") begins the story smack in the middle of the journey. Surprisingly, the film’s complicated flashback structure works, letting us share the solitary thoughts of this world-weary traveler as clearly as if we were rattling around inside her head.
Cheryl Strayed, we discover, is not seeking redemption by this monk-like pilgrimage. Rather, she’s looking for self-acceptance. Learning to live with herself.
That’s a good goal for all of us.
As an actress, Reese Witherspoon seems to have found it.