Reese Witherspoon goes delving into the Mojave desert, the Oregon farmland and many glorious locations with only her hefty backpack and a lifetime of regrets, sadness and contemplation about those around her and what it all means in Wild. Witherspoon plays Cheryl Strayed, a young woman in the early nineties who takes off to walk many hundreds of miles, sometimes alone, sometimes interacting with folk out there, as she reads and thinks and realises what her mother, Laura Dern, instilled into her from a young age, to find the best, happiest, most hopeful version of yourself no matter what the situation, and even dealing with death, divorce, addictions both narcotic and erotic, Cheryl loses herself and finds her best self on this walk across the west of America.
Mostly Reese alone in the wild, the film’s small characters, Dern’s mother being most prevalent, offer subtle, lived-in, honed additions to Cheryl’s story, as we slowly discover everything that went before when it becomes more important, not a new structure, but exquisitely handled in the case of Wild. It is Hornby’s screenplay that shines throughout, from simple uses of expletives to grand moments of human realisation, the writing of the film, the way scenes are played out and how they coast into the shape of Cheryl over the runtime is something exciting to watch, what happens and is formed is engaging, honest, human and utterly compelling.
Jean-Marc Vallee’s directing is stunning as well, taking the script, the story, the performances and making a cocktail of moments, emotions, beats that all hit home and form a glorious tapestry of a human overcoming their own self and nature. It harkens back to many kinds of cinema, but is its own beast all at once. But this is undoubtedly Reese Witherspoon’s show, the weight is firmly on her shoulders, and like her backpack ‘Monster’ she carries it with aplomb. Simply staring into the distance can muster up emotions of many varieties, her silence as much as her line reads bring us into her psyche, her world, her experience, and Cheryl’s as well.
Wild is an utter triumph, one of those ‘glorious, heartwarming, crowd-pleasing’ films they push onto the side of every bus, but utterly uncynical in its approach unlike so many of them. A magnificent, honest, glorious journey across a landscape both vast and small, empty yet bristling with danger. This is one of those films that will be looked fondly on for many years to come, the kind of film that earns cinematic cementing by being brilliant on every conceivable level. The definition of a must-see movie.