Wild-1Tales of redemption are often lacking in involving drama, namely because the audience knows what the outcome will be (redemption, doi). What makes them exciting to watch is what kind of story is being told, the strength of the characterisation, and perhaps most importantly, how inspiring is the story that we are witnessing? In the case of Wild, this story is very much a personal one, which may make you think that it may be hard to find a means for empathy, but there is something very human concerning the tale of Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) that allows empathy to flow and inspiration to be found.

Cheryl, who was once an aspiring student and a happily married student has fallen into a spiral of self-destruction following the untimely death of her beloved mother, Bobby (Laura Dern). Cheryl destroys her future and and her marriage by diving into a world of drug addiction and nymphomania. After a pregnancy scare gives her the wake-up call she needed, she decides to embark upon the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,500 mile, stretching from the U.S.-Mexican border to the U.S.-Canadian border. Along the way, her isolation forces her to come to terms with her grief, the relationships she has destroyed, and her own demons.Wild-2

Wild‘s strengths lie in many places, but what allows the film to stand out as a more unique tale of redemption is the elliptical structure employed by Nick Hornby, allowing for the moments of Cheryl’s past to arise as memories as she is left to her own thoughts. When the memories arise, they feel natural, allowing the spectator to sympathise with the places Cheryl’s mind wanders to during her testing journey. When we are left in isolation, our minds often turn to moments in our lives that we regret, reminding ourselves of what it was we did wrong, and what exactly we could have done differently. While this thoughts may be fruitless, re-calling these memories and coming to terms with what we did wrong, perhaps gaining wisdom, or at least a greater self-awareness of our own flaws and short-comings. While Cheryl is certainly dealing with darker demons than your Average Joe, her thought processes articulated with surprising wit and sarcasm, feel genuine and allow the film to be an interesting reflection on individual struggle. She has hit ground zero, and the only place to go from there is up.

With a strong script at her disposal, star and producer Reese Witherspoon has the confidence to deliver a performance that is not afraid to get down and dirty, daringly portraying the dark depths that Cheryl sank to in her lowest moments. It is a warts and all performance which, following on from a similarly grubby performance in Mud, re-positions Witherspoon as a dramatic actress and worthy awards contender, above the frothy romantic comedies she often relies upon for an easy pay-check. She occupies essentially every frame of film, and she ensures she commands your attention every second of the way.Wild-3

While this is certainly a showcase for Witherspoon, earning her a much deserved Oscar nomination, credit must be given to the performance of Laura Dern. Following on from her heartfelt and tragic turn as the mother of cancer stricken Shailene Woodley in last year’s The Fault in Our Stars, Dern seems to be on a course to remind Hollywood of her presence and dramatic capabilities. Portraying the beloved mother once more, Dern delivers a light, comforting and oddly spiritual performance, portraying a woman who never lets life get her down no matter how unfair and cruel it may be; she always has a swing her step, a glint in her eye, and Simon & Garfunkel on the brain. It is a vital performance to the narrative and one which allows for the emotional lynch-pin to hang on tightly over the course of Cheryl’s rehabilitation.

Director Jean-Marc Vallee, whose last feature Dallas Buyers Club was a heavy awards contender last year, seems much more confident with the material he is tackling with here. While the raw nature of his camera style remains from Dallas, he seems to have a much better grasp on the individual, and his editing is far more honed skilled than his previous feature. This may have more to do with the fact that the script is much stronger, but the direction from Vallee feels much more assured, with Wild vastly improving my opinion of the French/Canadian director. Wild-4

What most surprised me with Wild is the wit which resides under the layer of grit which makes up much of the surface. Hornby’s voice can very much be heard in a personal story, but Witherspoon’s performance is what makes this wit feel essentially a part of Cheryl’s being. Wild may not be particularly original in regards to the nature of its story, and at times its image and allegory is too forced and a little too obvious to be consider all that poetic. But come the end of the journey, there is no denying that Withersoon IS Cheryl Strayed, and the quiet optimism of the closing moments, as well as the journey itself, allows Wild to stand as a truly inspirational experience that everyone should embark upon. It’ll be a darn sight easier than actually walking the PCT, that’s for sure.

4/5- With a surprisingly witty screenplay and a three-dimensional performance from Witherspoon, Wild stands as an inspiring tale of redemption and perseverance.

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