FlixChatter Review: WILD (2014)

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Based on a memoir of Cheryl Strayed, a Minnesota native, it’s no surprise the TCFF screening last month was packed and there were a long line at the RUSH line trying to get tickets to the sold-out showing. As someone who haven’t read the book, I was intrigued by the female-driven story and was expecting to be entertained as well as enlightened. Alas, I got neither.

This movie is like Eat, Pray, Love 2.0 where a white woman in the midst of a life crisis decided to go on a journey of self-discovery. Now, instead of traveling the globe, in the mid 90s Cheryl hiked the 2,663 mi (4,286 km) long trail of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), all by herself. So the first act was quite amusing as we watched the petite Reese Witherspoon struggling to even carry her ginormous backpack twice her size and struggling to figure out how to put up a tent, cook a meal and so on. The film tells us in flashbacks who Cheryl is and how she ended up taking up such an extreme adventure. She went on such an arduous trek without much preparation, I mean the PCT is such a challenging terrain even for most experienced hikers. It seems that Cheryl went through life in a similar reckless manner, prompted by the death of her mother, played by the always affable Laura Dern.

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Though her family was poor, Cheryl’s mother was always there for her and she had such a sunny outlook on life even in the most dire circumstances. Her mother’s death from lung cancer wrecked the already-fragile Cheryl and her life went on a downward spiral. She drank, did drugs and slept with any willing man, even in a dirty alleyway. It’s no surprise her humiliated husband divorced her and even she didn’t fault him for doing so. In fact, her last name ‘Strayed’ was made up by Cheryl herself after the divorce, perhaps to signify her lost and philandering ways?

Witherspoon pulled all the stops in portraying Cheryl’s ‘warts and all’ persona, which includes posing nude, swearing up a storm, and pretty much anything we don’t expect from *America’s sweetheart.* But that’s the thing, I felt like the actress tried too hard to shed her ‘good girl’ image here, yet I feel she didn’t quite go far enough. For one I think she still looks too beautiful even sans makeup, never once did I believe her as a desperate person reaching her wit’s end. Some have said it’s a bravura and transformative performance but to me it looks superficial and bait-y, because she didn’t immerse us or make us empathize with the character.

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Perhaps an actress with a better range (like Cate Blanchett or even Emily Blunt) might’ve suited this role better. Other than Witherspoon and Dern, there are no other performances worth talking about. I only noticed Michiel Huisman as a guy she hooked up on her journey as I recognized him from some Game of Thrones stills, but he wasn’t given much to do than looking hunky.

The film itself also tried too hard to tug at my heartstrings that it felt manipulative. That is if you weren’t overwhelmed by the repetitive and at times jarring flashbacks to the point of ad nauseam. It’s worth noting that this is Jean Marc Valèe‘s follow-up film after the critically-acclaimed Dallas Buyer’s Club which was nominated for an Oscar, and the script was done by acclaimed writer Nick Hornby (About A Boy, An Education). Great pedigree to be sure, if only I had been more impressed by the result.

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The cinematography by Yves Bélanger of the PCT is perhaps the only thing I admire about this film, I mean it could double as an advertisement for the scenic trail (oh and for REI too, with its blatant product placement). Though the running time was under 2-hours, I felt like it went on for ages and I never felt more relieved to see end credits appearing on screen! I don’t mean to be so down on this movie, I suppose the themes of self-empowerment and perseverance are quite inspiring, but in the end, Cheryl Strayed remains emotionally distant to me.

2.5/5 Reels


Have you seen WILD? I’m curious to hear what you think!

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37 thoughts on “FlixChatter Review: WILD (2014)

  1. Yours is the second review I’ve read re: WILD and you both felt similar to the final result. Given the timing of release, for sure this was intended as Oscar-bait. Too bad it was so transparent, Ruth.

    1. I went in with neutral expectations to this but I was utterly bored w/ it, Michael. I think the more I think about her performance, the more I’m convinced of its in-authenticity.

  2. I’ve been anxious to read your review of this since you hinted at it being a disappointment. She mention several things that turn me off. I get shedding the ‘good girl’ image, but some of the things you mention annoy me more than immerse me.

    I respect your perspective and your review has definitely knocked it down a few pegs on my watch list.

    1. Hey Keith! I wasn’t enthused about reviewing it but I felt like I need to give a reason why I disliked it, ahah. I feel that some actors think if they shed their clothes and appear non-glamorous, then it’ll automatically be considered a *bravura* performance. I mean it takes far more than that, I mean Cate Blanchett didn’t appear nude in Veronica Guerin or Blue Jasmine, but you felt she was emotionally *naked* and completely lost, she made me believe she was in that state of mind, y’know.

      1. I know exactly what you mean. The Cate Blanchet comparison is a great one. I do like Reese Witherspoon but I think the differences in those two actresses can be seen clearly.

        1. Yeah I guess you’re right. But even Emily Blunt perhaps could do a more engaging performance, I know you like her and though she might not yet be in the same caliber as Blanchett she certainly is a very good actress.

            1. I mentioned her as she worked with Wild’s director on The Young Victoria. I think she could tackle a role like this, plus given that the role requires her to be on screen for most of the film, I think she’d be able to retain my interest.

  3. Interesting take and reference to Eat Pray Love. The trailers gave me the impression this would be a female version of Into the Wild. Doesn’t sound like Witherspoon could carry it that far though. Good review!

    1. Hi there Gene! I haven’t seen Into the Wild but yeah I guess there’s a similarity to that as well. I compared it to Eat Pray Love as it’s also based on a woman’s memoir who’s on a quest of self discovery. I feel like since Witherspoon bought the rights to the book, this becomes sort of a vanity project for her. I wish she’d cast someone else instead.

  4. I do like Witherspoon, but she’s not a brilliant actress, just a good one. I think of her and Julia Roberts in the same context. They are cute and generational and sometimes substantial, but often, they are mediocre. I wouldn’t classify them in the same class as Blanchett, that’s for sure. Sorry to hear it was a bore.

    1. Hey Cindy, well you said it. She’s good, not brilliant and not a chameleon. I think the major reason it’s a bore is because she couldn’t sustain my interest.

  5. Interesting! Glad to read your review, Ruth! I can see how Reese Witherspoon just doesn’t appear very dirty, grungy, etc. for a role that would require her to. I’m curious to see this myself. Definitely going in with lower expectations.

    1. Hey, maybe you’ll like it more than I did. It just bored me to tears, the guy sitting next to me actually had a more um, apparent reaction that he hated it.

        1. Well he kept raising his hands in the air and shaking his head. I knew him so I asked him afterwards and he confirmed he hated every minute of it.

  6. Ted S.

    As I said before, I have zero interest in seeing this movie. These self discovery movies just aren’t interesting to me at all. If I want to see someone’s trying to destroy themselves, I can watch the news instead.

  7. jackdeth72

    Wow!

    Who knew that Reese Witherspoon could “hump some serious ruck”?!

    Color me impressed!!. Over unbroken trails and cross land isn’t bad. Depends on the solidity of the soil. Uphill is awful. Because you have to lean forward. Throws off your center of gravity. Downhill is easier, but more treacherous with shifting soil, rocks and grass under foot.

    Her boots look stout enough, too!

    1. Ahah, you didn’t read my review did you Kev? Or you’re just being sarcastic?? I actually didn’t think she was *grungy* enough, and simply LOOKING like one isn’t enough to make me believe she is that character.

      1. jackdeth72

        Hi, Ruth:

        Glanced over the review. Wasn’t being sarcastic. Hiking, like sailing, scuba or snorkel diving is something that should not be done alone. Kudos to Ms. Witherspoon for taking on a bold role, but you have to be able to sell it. And there are other, more glamorous ways to break out of being type cast.

        I think she’d make an intriguing femme fatale or scheming, screwed over ex wife, business partner or executrix.

  8. This one didn’t appeal to me and reading your review confirms my low level of interest is justified. trying too hard to shed her image…I can applaud trying something different but extremes can be bad…obviously.

    Thanks for the review. I still remember her in Cruel Intentions

    1. Hi T! I guess I don’t blame her for trying to be edgy and step out of her comfort zone. Alas I just didn’t believe her. It doesn’t help that the film itself is boring.

  9. We finally found a movie to disagree on! I really enjoyed this movie, but like I think was telling you before I think they did a great job of interpreting the book. In the book there are many side stories going on and that is what keeps it from being uber boring. I have a few complaints about what they missed in the movie, but overall I think they conveyed the emotion of the book pretty good. The story is essentially all about her and her mother, everyone else has very small roles, so I can see why everyone else was not shown as much. What did bother me was there were two men who were significant to her and those characters were not capitalized in the film, Greg who is the guy Kevin Rankin plays and the character of Paul who is literally shown for like 5 minutes, those two were pretty interesting in the book and very meaningful to Cheryl. REI in the book is very significant to her, in a sense they save her from finishing the trip so I can see why they had to show us that brand. So there is my two cents, sorry if I am rambling on your post, just thinking out loud at the moment and excited I am finally catching up with your posts! 🙂

    1. OMG, I’m so sorry for my tardy reply Queen Mel, please forgive me! Somehow I didn’t realize there were three comments left here that I haven’t replied to.

      Ahah yeah, we finally disagree on something! It’s totally ok though, I mean it makes discussion more entertaining, right? 😉 As I didn’t read the book, that could be why I’m not as invested in the character as you did. But at the same time, I felt that the film itself COULD make me be interested in Cheryl, as Fincher did w/ Gone Girl though I haven’t read the book. I feel that the male characters here are reduced to one-dimensional characters that seem detached from Cheryl. So you confirmed it that the film didn’t make them that meaningful to her. As for the REI thing, it’s more of an observation about product placement but not necessarily a gripe. That’s good then if that’s a significant part of the story.

      Thanks for your thoughts girl, I definitely didn’t regret watching this 🙂

      1. No worries! Of course this is why we blog about movies, not to agree all together, but to talk and discuss because really who else in real life cares this much about a movie as we do. 🙂 And after I was done seeing it, I thought the same thing as you, had I not read it, I probably would not have understood this movie the way I did and viewers shouldn’t have to read a book in order to get a movie. So yes so true! I had to mention the REI thing so you knew that it was important to her… little miss Witherspoon and her boots. 🙂

  10. Yeah, there’s definitely major awards bait here, but I thought Witherspoon did a fine job in an otherwise plodding film. I’d give it 3.5/5 for succeeding on that front, though I wouldn’t personally nominate Witherspoon for Best Actress.

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