Genre: Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 55 min.
Release Date: December 5th, 2014 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Jean-Marc Vallee Actors: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski, Michiel Huisman, Gaby Hoffmann, Brian Van Holt
t’s the 36th day of hiking when Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) slips out of her bloody socks, peels off a dislodged toenail, and hurls her boots in a rage over the apex of a craggy mountaintop. Her goal is to traverse over 1000 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail, spanning from the Mexico border to the Canada border, alone and with little preparation or experience – far from the normalcy of her former Minneapolis life. And she’s not driven by the sights, a sense of adventure, or rare accomplishments, but rather to cope with a recent familial catastrophe. Unfortunately, the audience isn’t allowed to discover her motives until halfway through the film.
Cheryl’s story is told through flashbacks and random cuts to various memories, from images of her childhood to graphic sexual encounters. It becomes immediately apparent that her journey isn’t engrossing enough to be told in a chronological fashion, so the bits and pieces of her past are tossed into the timeline sporadically, just for variety. It’s a cheap gimmick and it does little to complicate a perilous endeavor so hopelessly devoid of real substance or thrills. This is certainly no “127 Hours.”
“Everything hurts all the time.” During her trek, she must hoist up a backpack that appears to weigh more than she does, avoid giving the impression that she’s a prostitute, and warily hitchhike or march through secluded forests while constantly worrying about possible rapists. If “Wild” was a horror film, it might have had potential, especially with the portrayed abundance of predators scurrying throughout the woods. However, more time is spent focusing on Cheryl reading, eating, defecating, and lamenting about the long haul than showing terrifying or suspenseful contretemps. At Mile 5, she pitches a tent with a great deal of distress and eats cold mush. It barely gets more exciting than that.
Though she must contend with snow, dehydration, rattlesnakes, and loneliness, she can admittedly quit at any time; there’s never a determination or unwavering necessity to complete the mission. Because of this, Cheryl isn’t particularly sympathetic or unique. Her plight is a commonplace affair of mistakes, regret, self-destruction, and the utilization of drugs and promiscuity as experimental coping methods. She wants to purge her sins, start over, come to terms with her familial anxieties, and forgive herself for destroying her relationship with her husband Paul (Thomas Sadoski), but these ordinary mental traumas aren’t inspirational or powerful. Though she hopes to walk her way back to the woman her mother (Laura Dern in a moving supporting performance) thought she should be, Cheryl fails to channel that motivation into cleansing triumph; by the conclusion, her dynamic intentions appear as nothing more than a woman no longer on narcotics.
A few emotional moments arise, but they seem included solely to add drama. It makes no difference that the story is based on the memoirs of the real life Cheryl Strayed, as this voyage is far from cinematic material. What makes her excursion worthy of a filmed biography? Why should audiences care about her very unexceptional life? Day and mile captions emerge onscreen every so often to remind viewers how long it takes for nothing to happen – or perhaps that the 94-day pilgrimage unfolds in what feels like tedious real time.
– Mike Massie