********* 6 out of 10 *********
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Actors: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern
There aren’t as many movies made from a female protagonist’s point of view in Hollywood as we would have liked. So when one such as Wild comes along the way, it is a refreshing change indeed. In addition to that, it has someone as talented as Reese Witherspoon leading the path and Jean-Marc Vallée, fresh from the success of Dallas Buyers Club, directing the show. Those are good enough reasons to visit the theatre. But for those same reasons, now the expectations from the movie are higher and something which appears average will not do. Maybe that is why I was left a bit disappointed with Wild, for in it lies the potential to be a classic, but it falls short to attain those heights.
Wild is a biopic based on Cheryl Strayed’s 2012 memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. It is the story of a woman who decides to hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail alone, after her life turns into shambles due to personal tragedies. The journey is an arduous one, not for the faint-hearted, but Cheryl Strayed trudges on, as she visits and revisits the demons of her past, with the hope that by the end of the journey she would have discovered a stronger woman within her.
Wild has a wonderful story to narrate, not that of some glorified hero, but an ordinary person who takes on an extraordinary task to learn more about herself and save herself from her destructive lifestyle. There are many of us, who would have felt the need someday or the other to take on a backpack and just leave our current lives behind for a while, and so through Wild we can see that part of us taking this journey after all. But the screenplay by Nick Hornby doesn’t really do complete justice to the story. The walk of the central character is laced with flashbacks of whatever has gone wrong in her life, but these moments do not gel well enough to make you feel the pain of Cheryl Strayed. Some moments of the past in fact are repeated which again is not an example of a great screenplay. The editing too lacked in finesse as the quick change of shots from the past to the present, or even from one day of the hike to another, seem rushed.
Director Jean-Marc Vallée has nonetheless managed to find the grittiness needed in the film in the right amounts, be it in the central character herself or the tough terrains through which she has to walk. The camera shots are perfect, capturing the small figure of Reese Witherspoon and her heavy backpack against the huge landscapes in the backdrop. The walk in itself becomes a bit tedious to watch sometimes, maybe due to the lack of emotional connect with the character that a better screenplay could have provided. The absence of a good soundtrack is also felt strongly here (how you are going to long to listen to the music of Eddie Vedder that plays so brilliantly in another hiking story, Into the Wild!).
The movie’s biggest asset is Reese Witherspoon, an extremely talented actress who has definitely given one of her best performances here of the past decade. She does not play Cheryl Strayed as a superwoman, but rather as any other common person who takes on a big challenge driven by a fire within her. That fire comes across in the steely determination of Reese Witherspoon’s eyes, the fierceness set on her face, the stance with which she walks that tells you she is not going to give up easily. She has a frailness to her too; she shrieks when she thinks there is a snake in her bed, she becomes scared on seeing a suspicious guy in her path, and she does have her moments of weakness when she thinks of the past. Reese Witherspoon has displayed a character who has many doubts and dark emotions buried within her, but who is determined to bring about a few important changes in her life. Through her terrific performance, Witherspoon lights up the whole movie. Laura Dern is the only other actor with somewhat of a decent screentime in the film, playing Cheryl Strayed’s mother, and she too puts on a strong display of a woman who has suffered in life but still wants to make the best of what she has got. The real-life age gap between the two is quite less and so it does make for an awkward mother-daughter relationship on screen, but these two fine actresses have nevertheless played two strong women characters, which is much needed even in today’s cinema.
Wild has been nominated for two Oscars, in Best Actress category for Reese Witherspoon and in Best Supporting Actress category for Laura Dern. These nominations seem easily justified, especially for Witherspoon. At the same time, it is not surprising that it has missed out on the Best Picture category. Despite the promise that the story has, the movie doesn’t really get all the elements to work in its favour, which thus leaves us with only bits and parts of brilliance, while the rest is mediocre. It cannot be compared with the likes of Selma, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Boyhood or Birdman which are on a different league altogether. Maybe for a great Reese Witherspoon role, you might still want to catch it. And do wait for the post-credits to run, where pictures of the real Cheryl Strayed from her hiking days are shown. It will warm your heart.