Reese Witherspoon is back in top form. (Not that she was ever bad in a film, but she was good in some lousy or fluffy flicks.)
Wild invites us to go on a journey with Cheryl Strayed, a woman who reacts to her mother's death by spiraling out of control. (This is a true story; the film is based on Strayed's memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. Nick Hornby wrote the adapted screenplay.) Cheryl's mom, Bobbi (Laura Dern, also wonderful), was the love of Cheryl's life. When Bobbi passed away at just 45, Cheryl (Witherspoon) became reckless, promiscuous and a (somewhat) functioning junkie, ruining her marriage (to Paul, played by Thomas Sadoski) in the process. Her mother had always encouraged her to "stand in the face of beauty," but Cheryl also remembered her mother saying, "I never got to be myself." So Cheryl set off to hike the Pacific Crest Trail by herself, to try to "become the woman [her] mother raised." (The PCT is a 1,000-mile trail that stretches from the Mexican border to Canada.)
Cheryl's past is revealed throughout, as flashbacks are interspersed with her time on the trail. And while she is hiking by herself physically, the memories and people of her past are constantly with her. (This lends itself to the flashback storytelling device; direction is by Jean-Marc Vallee (Dallas Buyers Club).) She also encounters others on the trail and at various checkpoints. She is cautious toward most at first (after all, she is a woman, alone, hiking in the wilderness) but opens herself up enough to learn something from those she meets, whether it's practical advice (like having REI send new boots that actually fit) or hearing a child sing and finally being able to come to terms with her mother's death.
Witherspoon gives a fearless performance. It is a performance without vanity, that shows grit and determination. Witherspoon is also one of the film's producer's, and if this is the kind of movie she's going to be fighting for, I'm on her team. (She also produced this year's Gone Girl.)
It is fascinating to see such a loving relationship between a mother and daughter (so many mother-daughter relationships are presented with over the top histrionics), and to see a woman who is flawed but strong; a woman who, at the end of the movie, isn't married or in the perfect job (or in the perfect pair of stilettos) but is happy. A woman who has grown, who has mustered up her own strength to save herself. Bravo to Witherspoon for being a champion of dynamic, round female role models, and for so wonderfully bringing one to life.