Review: Wild

8 10
This review originally ran as part of JoBlo.com's TIFF 2014 coverage.

PLOT: A young woman (Reese Witherspoon) hits the Pacific Crest Trail after suffering through a messy divorce and the death of her mother (Laura Dern).

REVIEW: After a rough patch, following the back-to-back failures of THIS MEANS WAR and THE DEVIL'S KNOT, star Reese Witherspoon is rebooting her career in a big way, with WILD being the first of two TIFF star vehicles helmed by Quebec directors that are poised to put her back on track. The first of these, WILD, directed by DALLAS BUYERS CLUB's Jean-Marc Vallée is already generating raves, with many calling it the best role she's ever had.

Sure enough, WILD is a strong, meaty part, with her starring as Cheryl Strayed in this adaptation of her memoirs. As adapted by Nick Hornby (ABOUT A BOY), Strayed is presented as a deeply flawed woman trying to hike her way towards being a better person. Witherspoon plays her as a self-destructive figure, bent on trying every drug and screwing every stranger she can to suppress the lingering pain of her mother's death.

One can see how WILD could be such an attractive vehicle for someone like Witherspoon. For one thing, it allows her to shed the good-girl rom-com image she hasn't been able to really shake, with her going places in WILD she certainly hasn't before. This includes graphic, sometimes unglamourous nudity, and many scenes where we're not supposed to like her, as she serially cheats on her kind husband. It's to Witherspoon's credit that as profoundly flawed as she is, you like her, which is important as she's alone on screen for a large chunk of the running time.

Outside of Witherspoon, Laura Dern plays the most significant part. Despite seeming way too young to be playing Witherspoon's mother, she's incredibly moving as the kindly mom, who fled an abusive husband and slaved away at menial jobs in order to support her kids on her own. There's a heartbreaking moment that shows how Dern's character went back to school in middle-age, ending up a classmate of her daughter's, who treats her like a stranger. Dern is so good that a potential best supporting actress nomination seems likely.

Otherwise, this is Witherspoon's show, and Vallée has a great feel for the material. While it could have come off as an INTO THE WILD-clone, Vallée's film feels different even when they cover the same territory, such as the random characters Witherspoon encounters along the way, all of whom (with one dangerous exception) are treated affectionately. Like he did in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB and C.R.A.Z.Y, WILD is set in the recent past (1995) and while he doesn't get too bogged down in references to the era, it's not ignored either, with some great soundtrack picks (including the annoyingly-catchy 4 Non-Blondes) and a strong set piece set at a Jerry Garcia memorial.

WILD winds up being another exceptionally strong TIFF entry in a year full-of them. While it's too early to tell exactly what's going to go over with the Academy, Vallée's skill in getting great, uncompromising performances out of actors often dismissed as lite-weights is in full effect here. It's a very good film, and one that will likely garner Witherspoon a lot of credit, although we'll have to wait and see whether or not that includes the academy.

Source: JoBlo.com



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