Director: Jean Marc Valee
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Gaby Hoffman, Thomas Sadoski
Just like last year was the time when Matthew McConaughey became a household name, it looks like this year could swing in favour of Reese Witherspoon. Not only did she produce Gone Girl, but has also starred in the well made, soul-searcher backpacker movie 'Wild'.
The film has been directed by Jean Marc Valee, who earlier made the fantastic Café de Flore and last year’s The Dallas Buyers Club which earned McConaughey the Oscar. The film, based on a true story, charts the backpacking road trip of a messed up Cheryl Strayed (Witherspoon) through the punishing desert land and mountains of the America’s Pacific Trail. On surface, this looks like a cliché — a young white American woman heading out to the road to find herself. We have seen that story before plenty of times, and those films were mostly bad. Wild, however, is different.
The first thing you will notice about the film is how it is tonally similar to Valee’s previous movies. The narrative flips between the past and the present, like a deck of cards shuffling around. As Strayed hurtles across the landscape we are shown brief glimpses of her past, and the reason why she is self-loathing and why she decided to take such a self-punishing journey. Again, the reasons are sort of clichéd, but the way Valee presents them feels fresh and interesting. The fact that all this is based on a real person makes the film more arresting.
Most films about finding oneself often pander to manipulative and emotional wrangling, but Wild doesn’t make any such cheap effort to make you feel good about something. The character of Strayed is as raw as it gets, and Valee still doesn’t make any judgment on her. Often times when bad things happen people make bad decisions and stray, and the film only offers you a chance to think pragmatically on how you would react to certain situations, rather than tell you how not to react.
Witherspoon may not look tall and strong as someone who would carry 15 kilos on her back to hike through the mountains, but she is fairly committed to the role. It is the first time we see her in a role that doesn’t play to her strengths and it’s a nice surprise that she has talent beyond the rom-com genre. The real hero of the film is actually the soundtrack featuring Simon and Garfunkel, which just fits incredibly well with the narrative. The film was playing in select PVR screens as part of the Oscar film run, but now it releases wide in all theatres. If you like good cinema, you could do a lot worse than Wild.