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With Jim Sabatini

Wild (2014)

Wild (2014)
Reese Witherspoon

Rated: R for sexual content, nudity, drug use, and language.
Reviewed by: Jim  
Release date: December 5, 2014 Released by: Fox Searchlight Pictures

An epigrammatic if inspirational adaptation of Cheryl Strayed's much-read memoir lifts a still girlish Reese Witherspoon (a Gone Girl producer) out of recent acting doldrums of How Do You Know and This Means War (though a solid supporting turn in a shifty, heartfelt Mud) with an evocative character study that provides picaresque scenery from the Mojave Desert (near the Mexican border) to Pacific Northwest mountainous environs. Even with some obvious product placement for a still glass-bottled beverage and a camping supplier.

Helmer Jean-Marc Vallee (The Young Victoria and the raw, riveting Dallas Buyers Club) directs Witherspoon artistically from recklessness to healing with a big boost from lenser Yves Belanger to naturally illuminate dawn and dusk on gorgeous horizons in Wild.  What transpires is a sympathetic, crisply edited wilderness epic that could be an endurance test for some in non-linear fashion with Witherspoon as the anguish, steely Cheryl. It's a physical and emotional trek that will be rewarding for viewers who bought into the grueling nature of the recently Tracks and Sean Penn's arguably more haunting Into The Wild. Over about a quarter of a year she'll have to contend with deserts, mountains, rain and snow (well, maybe not nearly what befell Western New York recently).

The subtitle of the novel From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail has scenarist Nick Hornsby (An Education, About A Boy) seemingly providing a cathartic answer to a volatile, grief-stricken existence as another compassionate path to self-realization. But, how it coalesces with Vallee's confident work behind the camera (like he did so well with Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto in an AIDS-stricken homophobic cowboy) doesn't really make it weighed down as much as Strayed's ginormous backpack called The Monster.

In 1995 Cheryl (when she was 27 as the 38-year-old Witherspoon convinces quite well in a mercurial, winning way) hastily attempts a 1,100 mile hike across a part of the aforementioned trail and hits many snags but proves to have a tremendous tenacious streak (even as the frequent temptations to do otherwise keep her restless). Her vulnerability but wells of reserve becomes clear from how Cheryl has arrived at this unprepared point. The recollections, doled out in a jagged, gritty manner, including the heartrending loss of free-spirited, abused, single mom Bobbi (Laura Dern, only nine years older than Witherspoon) and divorce, promiscuity and drug-addiction, have a dream-like feel that augment the arduousness at hand.

Wild, at heart, can be seen as an exploration of life to its true essence that confers an inspirational walkabout in its lyrical schematic at times with its audacity, tempestuousness as if to intriguingly have the ominous deliver a palliative effect. With a strong sense of unapologetic wit and paranoia Witherspoon peels back the layers of a weathered, self-destructive life with remarkable grace to confirm a kind of personal redemption with unexpected potency.

There are several Samaritans and undesirables along this colorful, if protracted cinematic odyssey as an always-upbeat Dern and Gaby Hoffman as a best friend are the most recognizable around a riveting actress (who raised many eyebrows going back to Freeway co-starring Keifer Sutherland). Where a vividly, balanced portrait (the kind of comeback one can relish after her June Carter Cash in Walk The Line) touched with levity and sorrow courtesy of Simon & Garfunkel as well as an earthworm from the memories and experiences that envelop our lives and dispel the demons within.

  Frank Chris Jim Dave Nina Dayra Howard Jennifer Kathleen  Avg. 
Wild (2014)  B      B+   B         C+      B+   B 

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