review – wild

Wild2014Poster

Director Jean-Marc Vallee has proven (in last year’s “Dallas Buyers Club”) that he can tell powerful stories by getting extraordinary performances from his actors — and he gets one from Witherspoon here. Make-up free for most of the nearly two hours she’s on screen, this is her grittiest, most vulnerable performance. She’s never been this raw, or this real, before. And, in terms of sex, full nudity, language and drug use, she goes further than she’s ever gone in a film before. She’s Cheryl and this is her story, her attempt to find her courage after her mother passed away, her marriage crumbled, and she realized her life was without purpose or sense of direction. It’s the tale of the daughter who chose to tackle 1,100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, to journey alone for 94 days, to push beyond her levels of endurance, “…to walk myself back to the woman my mother thought I’d be.”

Dern plays that mother with a sense of abandon, as a “big kid” at heart, but Witherspoon is the reason to see this movie. She’s feisty and fearless, wary and weary – and sometimes in the same scene. You can see it in her eyes, sense it in her limbs. Vallee tells her story a step at a time, letting us piece it together, to put it in order, to explain it all to ourselves. It all makes sense, but sometimes just barely. Important pieces seem to have been sketched only in bare outline. Humor is scarce, and so is suspense. Characters come and go. Any potential danger is quickly dealt with. And the ending, with its voice-over summary, feels abrupt. But you will fall in love with this wounded bird. And you will never again hear “Red River Valley” without thinking of the piercing eyes of the small boy she met when she was relearning how to fly

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