Thursday, December 4, 2014

Movie with Abe: Wild

Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée
Released December 3, 2014

Multiple films often have the similar titles and themes, and many are released around the same time. Occasionally, there’s enough time that passes between the release of two such films to understand that the genesis for each is firmly different, especially if they’re both based on true stories. “Wild,” which follows a woman who sets out on a solitary 1000-mile walk to atone for her sins, is ripe with echoes of “Into the Wild,” the 2007 Oscar-nominated film about a young man who leaves the material world to explore nature on his own. Fortunately, both tell extremely worthwhile, well-constructed stories with strong central performances.

Reese Witherspoon, who achieved fame as a surprisingly clever blonde in “Legally Blonde” and later won an Oscar for portraying June Cash, takes on her most ambitious and notable role in years as Cheryl Strayed, who spirals into a destructive cycle of drugs and sex after the death of her mother, resulting in a divorce from her husband Paul (Thomas Sadoski). To regain her sense of self and find a way to cope with her circumstances, Cheryl sets out to walk the Pacific Crest Trail, which stretches along the West Coast of the United States from the Mexican border to the Canadian border.

“Wild” has a difficult job: to convey the sense of endlessness and timelessness of a 1000-mile walk, and its effort on the human body and spirit. It begins in the middle of Cheryl’s journey, as she takes off her shoe to discover a bloody toenail and then inadvertently knocks the shoe down a hill to an unreachable depth. Furious, she throws the other shoe down with it and screams into the abyss. It’s a formidable start, and the rest of the film is all about her getting there. Her story is told in fleeting flashbacks, as walking up a certain mountain or sleeping in a tent one night reminds her of her childhood with her mother, her subsequent illness, Cheryl’s descent into addiction, and the decay of her marriage. Quick editing is very much responsible for the effectiveness of the storytelling in this film.

Witherspoon has chosen a great role for her official film comeback, which should net her a deserved second Oscar nomination, proving that June Cash was no fluke. Witherspoon has the tough job of playing someone who needs to be sympathetic despite an extremely dark and gritty past riddled with bad choices. Laura Dern, Gaby Hoffmann, Michiel Huisman, Kevin Rankin, and Sadoski provide able support in the ensemble, but this is firmly Witherspoon’s show. Director Jean-Marc Vallée has chosen a fabulous follow-up to “Dallas Buyers Club,” another driven character piece anchored by a magnetic performance. 115 minutes have rarely gone by so fast and been so impactful.


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