Movie Review: WILD

wild movie posterCheryl Strayed’s blockbuster memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail comes to the screen December 3 (in limited release), with Reese Witherspoon playing Strayed as she hikes over a thousand miles of the PCT after her mother died and her marriage failed.

The movie begins when Strayed commences her journey and ends as she completes it, with flashbacks in between to show how she got to the point in her life where she wanted to tackle such a daunting challenge, without any hiking or camping experience.

Witherspoon sheds all makeup and rom-com perkiness to capture the essence of a woman who’s lost in more ways than one. She carries a weariness around that doesn’t just come from the gigantic pack on her back. 

The actress also has to go further than she’s ever gone on screen to do some of the risqué and reckless things Strayed has done. No doubt Witherspoon is good in a role that’s different for her, but I’ll stop short of saying she blew me away.

The beauty of the movie for me, besides Yves Bélanger’s cinematography, is Laura Dern as Strayed’s mom, Bobbi. Dern made my heart ache every time she appeared on screen.

I didn’t read the book so I don’t know how Bobbi was depicted there, but Dern plays her as relentlessly optimistic even though life dealt her some lousy cards. Bobbi could find the bright side in the darkest places. It’s because she refused to cry for herself that sometimes reduced me to tears. Dern’s performance made it easy to understand why the loss of Bobbi could send Strayed into such despair.

Not a lot happens on the trail, but the story is more about the emotional journey than the physical one, and some of Strayed’s moments of discovery and catharsis are potent. When it comes to character studies, director Jean-Marc Vallée, who helped Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto win Oscars for Dallas Buyers Club, is the right tour guide.

Nerd verdict: Tame but well-acted Wild



  • Reply
    November 26, 2014 at 9:26 am

    I enjoyed the book, despite the author at times being a difficult character to “like.” I was impressed by her journey and ended up really liking how she transformed. I think I recall her mother having her young, but Laura Dern playing the part? I think Bobbi was older than 9. But fantastic to hear Dern pulled it off with such a stellar performance, which makes me look forward to seeing it all the more.

    There is one scene in the book that made me laugh out loud and I can only hope that makes it to the screen.

    Thanks, PCN!

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      November 26, 2014 at 9:29 am

      Was it Strayed putting her gargantuan pack on for the first time?

      • Reply
        November 26, 2014 at 9:39 am

        Ha! Exactly. You know me, I rarely remember things, but that has stuck with me all this time. Fantastic stuff. And since it stuck out for you, I’m guessing it was a memorable scene on the screen as well.

  • Reply
    November 26, 2014 at 11:26 am

    I’d heard about Strayed’s story, but purposefully ignored the book and the idea of adapting it into a film seemed dangerous because it’s inevitable that someone will try and imitate her journey and die in the process. I judged Strayed pretty harshly for doing something so irresponsible as to hike the PCT with no prior experience. I’m an avid hiker and it’s something I would be reluctant to attempt, even with a group. And I think Witherspoon has yet to turn in a performance as powerful as she did in The Man In The Moon way back when. Seeing her stripped of all artifice might redeem her though. Dern always gives 100% and is that rare actor who, even in a bad movie, is worth watching.

    Does she at least experience enough danger along the way to cause rethink the choice to make the journey?

  • Reply
    Rhonda H.
    November 26, 2014 at 10:15 pm

    I started the audiobook but stopped because I sometimes have a hard time reading/listening to stories about parents dying. Mine are alive and healthy but I just can’t do it with some books. Not a big fan of Witherspoon but love Dern. I may suck it up and cry through the movie (on my couch) when it comes out on video.

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