Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyer’s Club), Reese Witherspoon plays Cheryl Strayed, who is the author of the memoir, also called Wild. It is about her cathartic 110-mile trek on the Pacific Trail to overcome her demons: her mother dying, yada yada yada, heroin addiction, yada yada yada, divorce. Reese Witherspoon seems to nail it as a woman on a trek of redemption.
It’s 1994, a time when most long-distance trekkers are men. That in itself was a challenge for Strayed.
Turning to the critics:
(the online component of The Atlantic Monthly magazine)
Review by David Sims
Spoilers skimmable? You have to skim most of the review, but you can do it. After reading the article below, this review seems pretty tame.
Bottom line: it’s great– a true feat of “charting a woman…on a journey, scattering memories throughout the movie” in a way that is “natural not manipulative.”
Waxing poetic: I like that Sims describes the wilderness as Cheryl Strayed’s “enemy throughout.”
Critic unbound: Sims gets a little carried away: Witherspoon has felt a little lost in the wilderness, career-wise, since winning an Oscar for her brassier but similarly soulful work in 2005’s Walk the Line.
My take: granted, Witherspoon was in a series of bombs. But she created her own production company for God’s sake!
She has also chosen to be in indies, when I spend at least three minutes engaged in an inner dialogue about whether that was her. (I’m talking about Mud, where she pops out of nowhere as Matthew McConaughey’s wayward woman. This is where we can pinpoint the beginning of her grunge phase.)
Article by Tim Neville
In a surprise turn towards the clever, I decided to see if I could find a review in Outside, my go-to magazine for all things outdoors and beautiful. Outside covers travel, sports, adventures, fitness and people who do outdoorsy things.
They loooooved the book, but did not review the movie. HOWEVER, they sent a reporter to the set. Although he was forbidden from talking to Witherspoon, he got to watch her before, during and after filming a scene. He was able to interview Cheryl Strayed and Laura Dern, who plays her mother.
Spoilers: too, too many. Why, beautiful magazine, why?
Because it’s the nature of the beast? I don’t think so. This article doesn’t depend on the plot turns, some of which weren’t even mentioned in the review in Atlantic.com.
But there were great juicy tidbits.
The lowdown on Reese Witherspoon–
Determination: she bought the rights to the book before it was published.
Reese does Skank: the filming was in the great outdoors above Mount Hood, Oregon.
Reese Witherspoon was lying in a blue sleeping bag under some old-growth cedars dripping with rain and scraggly beard lichen….the Oscar winner looked haggard herself. Her hair was tangled. Her fingernails were grimy. Dirt smudged her face as she lay under a tarp in the cold, waiting to film a scene….
Reese does Prissy:
WAIT. First a preamble: before the filming began, they threw bugs and frogs all over Witherspoon. If she can tolerate that, then how prissy could she be? After relaying the conversation (below) between Strayed and Witherspoon, Neville notes that Witherspoon didn’t give a hoot about a prop guy who tripped and stumbled. I think he includes this in the article because he was angry that he wasn’t allowed to speak to her.
Take Two, Reese does Prissy:
Strayed told Neville that Witherspoon relied on her “to help her dive deep into an unfamiliar world.” She relayed one conversation:
“She wanted to know little details about my time on the trail, like, ‘Did you brush your hair?’ ” Strayed recalled. “I said, ‘Yes, some.’ ”
“What about shaving?” Witherspoon asked.
“Of course not.”
“Will you just tell Jean-Marc that you did?” Strayed remembered her asking. “I’ve done a lot of things, but I’m not going to grow armpit hair.”
In the end it was a moot point anyway. “She’s blond,” Vallée shrugged. “It wouldn’t show.”
(Maybe Witherspoon could have pasted some hair under there, like beards or mustaches on her colleagues.)
Neville did see the movie: Some of the scenes are “brutal,” he says. He observes that “(t)he movie lays bare a simple truth: that wilderness can bring peace and even a sense of purpose.”
Oh, you reporter for all things outdoors and beautiful. Of course you would say that.