“Wild,” based on the bestselling memoir by Portlander Cheryl Strayed, is a story about redemption and finding yourself through physical pain and beautiful wildlife. It’s also a story about confronting your demons and overcoming them. “Wild” may fall in a rut of beautiful scenery and the confrontation of inner demons, but the way it handles memories and Cheryl Strayed’s journey on the Pacific Crest Trail is excellent and exciting.
Reese Witherspoon steps into the role of Cheryl Strayed, portraying Strayed as an unprepared, troubled hiker, yet one willing to take on the male-dominated world of Pacific Crest Trail hiking. Witherspoon is undeniably good and hits all the notes required for a best actress nomination, but something is missing from her performance. There is a disconnect between the trail self and her past younger self. They seem almost like completely different people with completely different stories, and it’s hard to mentally connect the two.
The movie also portrays an accurate picture of what it would be like to hike the Pacific Crest Trail as a woman, and the uncomfortable encounters with men seem real. There is a sense of tension and foreboding that fits the awkwardness of being alone and a woman on a trail usually frequented by men. One scene, when she was about to give up on the trail, shows her meeting up with a guy working in a tractor. The man originally seems creepy; he has a gun in his car, but it turns out he’s an actual caring human, unlike some of the other freaks she meets on the trail. This sequence is expertly handled and emits a sense of tension.
Strayed’s memories are directed well and in a manner similar to how memories actually work. At the beginning, they are more like montages than memories, but as the film moves forward, the memories become less like random collections and more self-explanatory. Memories are always triggered by an event happening the trail, and at some points, the memories become a little too dramatic, but honestly, the memories and the way they were presented really sell the film.
Product placement runs rampant during the film. REI has quite a few scenes dedicated to their trail supply services, and Snapple is almost a character, as the tea-drink appears at every rest stop and gas station.
The scenery is beautiful and right in our Oregon backyard. Chances are you’ve been to a piece of forest shown in the film. One incredibly dramatic scene takes place on the Bridge of the Gods, and as someone who has been to the bridge many time, the scene had a feeling of familiarity that struck a chord.
Cheryl Strayed certainly struggled with demons. She suffered from a heroin addiction and had no plan for her life besides self-deprecation while walking on the trail. She cheated on her husband, a nice-seeming man, and the film gives no explanation as to why.
With these hardships, the film would seem dark and gloomy, and it is, but it is peppered with humor that buoyed the story. One part that struck me as particularly funny was when a reporter with loads of junk in his car stops and asks to interview with Strayed for the Hobo Times, and despite sounding dumb when I say this, the scene is actually funny and makes the scenes after it more manageable, particularly scene after scene of her walking dramatically in the forest.
Overall “Wild” is an enjoyable film that is more than you expect it to be, and after you watch this film, you may find yourself taking a long walk through the forest.
Catlin Grade: Very Good/Nearly Excellent