Cheryl 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