Wild, film review: Audiences will be cheering on Reese Witherspoon in this fantastic journey

(15) Dir. Jean-Marc Vallée; Starring Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, 115mins
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The Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée's follow-up to Dallas Buyers Club is another real-life drama with a lot of heart, built around an extraordinary and very physical central performance – this time by Reese Witherspoon, who also produced. But Wild also tries something more audacious.

It's an adaptation of Cheryl Strayed's 2012 literary memoir, which was subtitled "From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail" and tells of how she rediscovered and healed herself during an arduous 1,100-mile hike through the wilderness of the western side of America. Thanks to Vallée's impressionistic storytelling and free-associative editing, and Nick Hornby's concise and subtle screenplay, the film succeeds at two difficult things.

Firstly, it mimics beautifully the experience of another person's interior monologue – which books can do so naturally but which is far, far harder to achieve in the cinema. And secondly, it is explicitly a true-life story about a woman's journey towards self-discovery, and yet, unlike, for example, Eat, Pray, Love, in which you come to hate Julia Roberts' character, you come to like and admire Witherspoon's character enormously, and cheer her on.

In flashbacks, we glimpse how Strayed was derailed by grief after the death of her mother and the end of her marriage, and how drug use and promiscuity might have seemed like easy fixes but turned out not to be. In the present, meanwhile – and Wild is all about being in the present, and putting one foot in front of the other – we glimpse the majesty of the American landscape, and how we'd better learn to care about ourselves and one another, because nature cares nothing for us or our problems. It's just a simple story, then, but it is beautifully told and its wisdom seems hard-earned.