Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée
Starring Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Gaby Hoffmann and Michiel Huisman
In US Cinemas December 3rd, 2014
In UK Cinemas January 16th, 2015

by Joanna Orland

Reese Witherspoon is Cheryl Strayed in the true story of overcoming one’s demons. Cheryl is dealing with grief, the loss of her mother is something she never overcame. The demise of that relationship causes others in Cheryl’s life to unravel as she’s distant from her brother and her marriage to Paul is falling apart at the seams. She turns to drugs and sex to escape the pain, but she finds no solace until her 3 month trek across the Pacific Crest Trail in the Wild.

Adapted from Strayed’s novel by acclaimed writer Nick Hornby, Wild has 3 distinct voices – Strayed’s, Hornby’s and director Jean-Marc Vallée’s. Cheryl is a strong female character and her portrayal on the big screen feels as intimate as if it were being read directly from the pages of the book. Vallée’s use of flashback and audio to tell Cheryl’s story gives the audience the feel of being inside Cheryl’s head. Flashbacks are often dreamlike, utilizing sound design to create an intimacy which would be unachievable otherwise. Layers of Witherspoon’s whispered and spoken dialogue are interwoven between flashbacks and present day reality to give the distinct impression that she is remembering these moments as she treks through the wild, and we the audience are privy to her thoughts. This abstract and detached technique is one of the most subtle yet innovative uses of sound I have seen in a modern film.

In addition to the dialogue connecting the pieces of the story, music is used to the same effect, notably in the form of song. This is where Hornby’s distinct voice comes into play. Songs may play or be sung in present day which triggers memories for Cheryl, again using abstract detachment to link the narrative. For a non-musical film to tell its story using music in such a way, is an inspiration.

Cheryl’s flashback sequences often focus on her relationship with her mother, played by the enigmatic Laura Dern. Laura is such a joy to watch in this role, I almost felt as if she were my own mother, and mourned her loss in a way I wouldn’t have if this role were played by a lesser actress. While Laura is crucial to her part, Witherspoon feels merely adequate. With a very strong and solid performance from the actress, the element missing here is depth. Witherspoon, even in the grittiest of roles, feels too sweet and light for a character who is going through the depths of hell, trying to climb her way out. Witherspoon’s inferiority in this role is only enhanced by the fact that as recently as April of this year, Mia Wasikowska took on a similar role as Robyn Davidson in Tracks, the story of a woman’s trek through the Australian desert. Whereas you could feel the weight of the world on Wasikowska’s shoulders as her journey progressed, with Witherspoon, the mood feels like more of a casual stroll.

Overall, Wild is an engaging journey of self-discovery. A strong female lead coupled with an intimate soundscape makes us all search for our own answers in life.

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