I believe that when you see a movie your opinion is influenced by where you are in your life. We all love bad movies from our childhoods and we all grow to appreciate certain movies the more we grow up and understand them. So when I say that Wild broke my heart into a million pieces and then stitched it back together perhaps you should know that not two hours before my screening I had no idea how I was going to handle a few issues in my life and I was venting down the phone to my Dad. I wasn’t looking for a solution or for help, I just needed someone to know that I don’t have all the answers. Then I saw Wild, a movie about a woman who also doesn’t have all the answers, or perhaps even any. Perhaps take that for what it’s worth. It might be significant.
Wild is the story of Cheryl Strayed based on a memoir that details Strayed’s thousand mile trek across the Pacific Crest Trail following years of drug abuse, promiscuity and personal crisis. From her internal thoughts and memories to a portrayal of the hike itself, Wild provides an insight into the importance of the journey and how the problems of Cheryl’s past occupy her mind as she tries to heal.
There’s a special place in my heart for movies centered around walking vast distances (thanks more to The Lord of the Rings in my youth than last years disappointing Tracks) and movies focusing on people entirely aware of how broken they are and trying to piece themselves back together are always the most interesting type of character study. Where Wild really stands out, though, is how it portrays Cheryl’s never ending self doubt. The voice-over that fades in and out, muttered curses and internal laboured breathing constantly convincing Cheryl she might as well quit captures so well the sort of internal conflict a person feels whenever they attempt anything difficult and serves to remind that healing is rarely so simple and usually involves a lot of pain along the way.
The screenplay by novelist Nick Hornby follows the yet unwritten rule that his writing has always proved more effective onscreen than on the page, a point well established by his previous screenplay, the wonderful An Education and adaptations of his novels such as High Fidelity, About A Boy and Fever Pitch. His characters exude justified self effacing attitudes which almost always come off as insufferable throughout novels but when spoken by actors with whom audiences can empathise, evoke a stark reminder of the humanity behind words which otherwise feel so very dour. Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club) Wild has a real fluid sense of dreaminess, highlighting a hazy remembrance that might flow when faced with nothing but loneliness, time and a long trail ahead. The most credit, however, must go to Reese Witherspoon for her intrepid portrayal of Strayed. Witherspoon has always been a tremendous actress (as her Oscar for Walk the Line can attest) but Wild might stands out from her previous fare as a fiercely physical performance, not to mention a beautiful cross examination of how one person took faced up to all her problems, literally one step at a time.
I can’t say which movies are going to be well regarded in the future but I am pretty good at coming out of a showing knowing if the movie I just saw will stick with me. Wild will stick with me. It gave me the sort of headache that I get whenever I just feel a little too uncomfortable about how real a movie feels, that I get whenever I wish there were just a few more answers available because then maybe I would know what to do next with my own life. Wild doesn’t give any answers. All Wild says is that it understands, that maybe I don’t need to worry too much. Maybe neither do you.
Cathartic, honest and very witty, Wild showcases not only an astounding lead performance from Witherspoon but also the sort of message we could do all do with hearing a bit more often. We might only be two weeks into the year but Wild might already be one of the best films of 2015.
Wild will be out in cinemas across the UK on 16th January, 2015.