Reese Witherspoon’s Golden Globe nomination for her portrayal of Cheryl Strayed, upon whose memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, this film is based, should surprise no one familiar with director Jean-Marc Vallee’s previous film, Dallas Buyer’s Club. which was also an actor-driven award magnet. After the death of her mother (Laura Dern), Cheryl self-destructs with drugs (preferably heroin) and sex (preferably with strangers), winding up divorced (her hubby will be familiar to “Newsroom” fans; hey, Don, aka Thomas Sadoski).
To find herself, Cheryl decides to hike a thousand miles along the PCT, all by her lonesome. Luckily, she meets the likes of W. Earl Brown (There’s Something about Mary, “Deadwood”), Kevin Rankin (“Friday Night Lights”), Brian Van Holt (“Cougar Town”) and Cliff De Young (the dad from childhood favorites Flight of the Navigator and Pulse), rather than any crazed serial killers. (I’d have called that slasher flick, Hike.) I am not crazy about the protagonist, Cheryl, and her struggle. Lots of people lose a loved one without resorting to drugs and reckless sex. I cannot say whether or not Strayed’s memoir did a better job defending/explaining her motives, but Nick Hornby’s adaptation never quite gets inside the broken hiker’s psyche. Her mom dies; she breaks down; a long hike fixes her.
It’s a good thing Vallee’s film is so beautiful and Witherspoon is so credible. Wild would have been a struggle without its beautiful photography and its lead actress. Dern also excels in her brief time as Cheryl’s mom, Bobbi. Like Cheryl, I wish we’d had more time with Bobbi.