Wild, film review: It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroism

(15) Jean-Marc Vallée, 115 mins Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern
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The Independent Culture

Jean-Marc Vallée follows up on last year's Oscar- winning Dallas Buyers Club with another film about an individual faced with huge physical and psychological challenges.

This time, it isn't a red-neck cowboy dying of an Aids-related condition. It is a young woman, Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon), whose pain is entirely self-inflicted. She embarks on a 1,000-mile hike along the Pacific Coast trail. She has a backpack which weighs as much as she does. Her feet quickly become bloodied and blistered. She barely knows how to put up her tent or how to cook in the wild. Cheryl is a lost soul, looking for catharsis and redemption following the death of her mother (Laura Dern, seen in frequent flashbacks) and the break-up of a relationship.

A film about someone going on a very long walk doesn't sound especially dramatic but Nick Hornby's screenplay (adapted from Strayed's book) brings out Cheryl's yearning as well as the epic quality of her mini-Odyssey. She encounters everything from snakes to lecherous men on tractors, from callous journalists who mistake her for a hobo to snowy peaks and sun-baked deserts. All the time, she is trying to make sense or her life and to cope with the grief from the loss of her mother.


As the self-loathing protagonist, Witherspoon is a long way removed from her characters in comedies such as Legally Blonde or Election. The film must have been a trial of endurance but she brings an impressively dogged and philosophical quality to her character – someone who knows that with each step she takes along the trail, she is coming closer to mending her messed-up life. We can't help but warm to her heroism.