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Fox Searchlight Pictures // R // December 5, 2014
List Price: Unknown [Buy now and save at Fandango]
Only a select few motion pictures are able to successfully immerse us in a blizzard of emotion in the same way that a cinematic portrayal of a personal journey can. They often involve a protagonist having to face their inner-most demons, as they simply cannot escape them. If you happened to see John Curran's Tracks earlier this year, then you know what happens when such a journey takes the easy way out. it feels very much like an abridged version of a personal adventure that should be much larger. We never got the chance to get within the mind of the lead, making it difficult to truly become invested in the grand expedition that we're supposedly embarking upon. So, what happens when a filmmaker is able to successfully deliver on such a goal? Conveniently enough, Jean-Marc Vallée's Wild is hitting theaters on December 5th.
Following the memoir of Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon), she tells her story of setting out upon a 1,100-mile solo hike. After facing a recent catastrophe, she has found that her life has been falling further down the drain. Cheryl believes that the only way she will be able to redeem herself is by pursuing this journey, hoping that she will find a new version of herself at the end. Unsure of what will be left of her by the journey's conclusion, Cheryl continues to push forward with every ounce of her being.
Rather than seeing a separate perspective of this hike, the audience lives within the mind of Cheryl. Nick Hornby's screenplay successfully manages to place us there, and keep us there, without a single fumble. Wild begins in the middle of the hike, as our lead is forced to stop walking in order to remove a toenail that is barely hanging on, only to lose one of her shoes. It's an excellent hook that grabs our attention before moving back in time, just before she embarked upon the hike. Those wondering why she would want to venture on such a long hike will instantly sympathize with Cheryl once we become aware of her motives. As she continues to walk the path, the majority of the dialogue comes from a voice-over, that places us directly within the thoughts of our lead. This gives way to some of the comedic relief, as well as some of the most serious of moments. This is a powerful tool of storytelling that is used extremely well by Hornby. Cheryl constantly questions whether she should keep walking forwards, or if she should just quit. However, as she begins to explore the darkest corners of her mind, Cheryl starts struggling in both the physical and the emotional arenas. It's truly a tremendous work of character disposition, as we continue to sympathize with this troubled lead, who is fighting to regain a grasp on the life that has been demolished by her own destructive behavior. Audiences are guaranteed to feel utterly connected with Cheryl by the end of the picture.
The further that we get into Wild, the more symbolic it becomes. This is a voyage that can best be described by Cheryl's steps through a landscape filled with snow. With each step taken, the lead is metaphorically struggling in order to keep emotionally balanced, as she fights to reach freedom from the past, and from all of its negativity. However, she isn't seeking to erase her memories about specific regrets, but to appreciate the person that her mistakes have allowed her to become. Screenwriter Nick Hornby works with some wonderfully rich messages, which are utilized in an exceptional fashion. It's impossible to watch this without doing a little bit of self-reflection, as the picture urges us to accept that the past is what makes us who we are. However, Cheryl has difficulty entirely grasping these ideas, as she tries to avoid venturing into the darker corners of her mind. Such concepts are further enforced as she continues to meet several individuals along the path. Some are fellow hikers, who are all making the journey for different reasons, while others have different motives. Each person is shocked when they hear that a woman is doing the hike by herself, as she's forced to encounter dozens of obstacles that involve external factors. However, some of these scenes feel a bit too produced, rather than working with the natural fluidity that the remainder of the feature handles so incredibly well.
The final act of Wild works to bring it all together, as certain themes begin to reappear in various forms. Whether it be symbolism or in the form of fellow hikers, Hornby stresses that this is an emotional journey that Cheryl will not escape unscathed from. However, much of the foreshadowing is far too obvious, leading to a finale that has been hinted at so often, that it comes as no surprise. It hinders the effect of watching Cheryl struggle in regards to whether or not she will be able to find it within herself to finish the hiking path. This hinders the emotional impact that the film often tries to strike. Regardless, Wild still manages to be an emotionally-charged journey through the majority of its duration that immerses its audience. Even though its finale is flawed, it ultimately feels like an epic adventure that we can't help but feel honored to have been joined. The audience feels somewhat changed after walking out of the cinema, as it proves to have a lasting effect that is sure to follow you on your drive home.
This isn't the first time that Academy Award-winner Reese Witherspoon has impressed us. With her performances in features such as Walk the Line and Mud, she has demonstrated an exceptional range that truly feels effective on the silver screen. She has done it once again in the role of Cheryl Strayed. Witherspoon is transfixing in this highly impactful journey, as she truly makes us believe in this character. Wild heavily relies on the ability of its lead talent, and Witherspoon goes above and beyond the expected limits. It doesn't feel like acting, but rather a true expression of the relationship between strength and weakness. She strikes a perfect balance between the two that simply feels like magic. Laura Dern is great as her mother, Bobbi. She truly pulls us into the picture, as she is what makes this family structure so awe-inspiring. This is a pair of wildly impressive performances that are honest and memorable.
When it comes to Jean-Marc Vallée's visual style, Wild looks just as it should. He takes full advantage of the various landscapes, contrasting the chaotic nature of Cheryl's internal struggle with the true beauty of the hiking route. It provides the picture with a sense of charm, but we're constantly made aware of the many dangers that could be lurking around. The color palette evolves along with its lead character, as the various seasons of weather allow the picture to have a visual journey of its own. Vallée accomplishes a vast atmosphere, while still crafting a tremendously intense tone, especially through its powerful use of close-ups. However, editors Martin Pensa and Jean-Marc Vallée truly impress. They somehow manage to make every transition feel fluid from one scene to the next, even with its countless sound bridges and flashbacks. Numerous accounts of symbolism have been created through the editing process, only further lending to Pensa and Vallée's talent at the craft. This is most definitely Oscar caliber editing that deserves recognition.
Filled to the brim with genuine emotion and beautiful characterization, this is meaningful storytelling. Director Jean-Marc Vallée and writer Nick Hornby place us within the mind of lead Cheryl Strayed, making for an utterly immersive cinematic experience. It's in this role that Reese Witherspoon mesmerizes, as she once again proves to be a powerhouse to be reckoned with. Every element has come together in order to present a cohesive and massively intimate feature that works on nearly very level imaginable. While some of the foreshadowing is a bit too "on-the-nose," that doesn't stop this from being a wildly effective journey that is sure to make you look at life a little bit differently. If that isn't success, then I don't know what is. Wild is a cinematic achievement well-worth celebrating. Highly recommended!