Movie Reviews & Interviews from Washington

‘Wild’ Review: Starring Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern & Thomas Sadoski

“My mother was the love of my life.” -Cheryl Strayed

Based on the best-selling novel of the same name, Wild tells the story of Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) and her 1,100-mile solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. After Cheryl’s mother (Laura Dern) dies of cancer, Cheryl’s life begins to fall apart. Her marriage with husband Paul (Thomas Sadoski) is the first to fall of the rails as Cheryl cheats on him repeatedly and when that isn’t enough to wash away her pain she turns to drugs. After her friend Aimee (Gaby Hoffman) finds her in a heroin coma, Cheryl realizes she needs to pick up the pieces and “walk her way back to the woman her mother thought she was.”

Cheryl decides to put her life on hold and do a solo hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, a 1,100-mile hike from Mexico to Washington State. Having had no training or experience in hiking, the physical strain of the hike mixed with her emotional need for redemption, Cheryl begins the hike with no idea what’s in store for her or what she will discover along the way.

Reese Witherspoon is one of the few actresses working today that continues to surprise and transform into her roles. She’s come a long way from Annette Hargrove in Cruel Intentions and Elle Woods in Legally Blonde and is exceptional as Cheryl Strayed. It’s undeniable that Witherspoon knew this character’s strengths and weaknesses and faults and fears. Watching her on screen was mesmerizing from the intense opening scene where she is losing her mind over a lost boot to the end where she meets a young boy in the forest who sings to her. Her incredible range of emotions shines beautifully here and it’s exciting to see what’s she has in store next.

wild reese witherspoon

Laura Dern is remarkably good (as always) as Cheryl’s mother. The actress, shown primarily in the flashback scenes of Cheryl as a little girl (played by Cheryl Strayed’s real-life daughter), captures the good-hearted and loving mother we grew to know so well in the book. Dern and Witherspoon have sweet mother daughter chemistry even though they only have a few scenes together. Dern delivers one of the more memorable performances in the supporting actresses category this year but she should have been in the movie more.

In Strayed’s novel, the heart and soul of her story is the relationship between her and her mother. It is in the film as well, but the director should have highlighted more of their relationship as Cheryl got older and as her mother’s cancer grew stronger. The major difference from the book and the movie is that the book focuses more on Cheryl and her mother and what that relationship meant to Cheryl, whereas in the movie the director focuses more on the trial and error of Cheryl’s hike and her downfall before she decided to do the hike, but the movie doesn’t do as well on explaining how much her mother meant to her. That was a bit disappointing and maybe a glitch in the narrative of the screenplay but either way there’s no denying the strength of Witherspoon and Dern’s performances.

reese witherspoon wild 2014

Director Jean Marc-Valee (2013’s Dallas Buyers Club) captures the beauty of the Pacific Crest Trail from the deserts of Mexico to the stunning mountains and lakes in Washington. Cinematographer Yves Belanger’s (Dallas Buyer Club) shots of the gorgeous landscape were a major part in the storytelling of Cheryl’s struggling but amazing journey hiking the PCT. The soundtrack with a few songs by Simon & Garfunkel, The Shangri-Las and Bruce Springsteen breathes life into the background as we watch Witherspoon hike the trail and captures her mood wonderfully.

Though there were some narrative points missed in the novel to film adaptation, Wild is a stunning showcase for Reese Witherspoon paired with a sweet supporting performance from Laura Dern. Jean Marc-Valee’s film is a story about recovery, redemption, learning to love yourself and how meaningful a relationship with one’s mother can be.

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