Wild ✮✮

Take a Hike

by Glenn Lovell

Silly me.

Here I go expecting a gripping survival number on the order of “127 Hours” or “Touching the Void,” and what do I find? A sloggy, New Age-y variant on “Eat Pray Love.” Instead of survival tips, we get daisy-chain aphorisms on the importance of being centered and forgiving yourself so you can grow into the person you were always meant to be.

Sheese. I could have gone to Barnes & Noble’s self-help section for that.

“Wild,” starring a studiously solemn Reese Witherspoon, is no “Into the Wild.”

reese

Witherspoon weighted down

This adaptation of the Cheryl Strayed tell-all, developed by Witherspoon’s production company and directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (“Dallas Buyers Club”), recounts how, upon losing her mother to cancer, Minneapolis’s Strayed strayed into crack houses and indiscriminate sex. As a sort of tribute to Mom ‒ and a means of making a good act of contrition ‒ Cheryl hikes more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, which wends from southern California to the Washington-Canada border.

“I’m going to walk myself back to the woman my mother thought I was,” vows Strayed.

This feature-length selfie is filled with such tortured, quasi-spiritual sentiments, delivered straight-faced by Witherspoon in dialogue and voiceover.

This would have been fine if Vallée had allowed the spectacular visuals to speak for themselves, as Werner Herzog often does in documentaries like “Grizzly Man.” It’s statement enough to observe the protagonist in extreme long shot, inching ant-like across valley floors, dwarfed by canyons and snow-crusted mountains. We could certainly have done without the flashbacks chronicling life with an abusive father and free-spirited mother (Laura Dern as every stereotypical Earth mother).

En route, Strayed happens upon park rangers, hunters, even a reporter for “Hobo Times.” Almost to a one these strangers are creepy, prying males, which reinforces everything she already knew about the worthlessness of the opposite sex. (An exception: her malleable doormat husband, played by the appropriately named Thomas Sadoski.)

Eventually, after three months on the trail, Strayed falls to her knees sobbing. Her light-bulb epiphany: “I was lost in the wilderness of my guilt” and needed to find “my way out of the woods.”

Witherspoon the actor obviously wanted to try something new here. For that she deserves props. Unfortunately, she was not well-served by Witherspoon the producer, who weighted down her character with too many of the source memoir’s self-serving sermonettes. Little wonder she often buckles under the strain; such baggage is about as useful on the trail as a lifetime subscription to Oprah’s “O” magazine.

WILD ✮✮ With Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern. Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée; scripted by Nick Hornby from Cheryl Strayed memoir. 115 min. Rated R (for profanity, sex, drug use)

Lovell, former movie critic for the San Jose Mercury News, teaches film studies at De Anza College in Northern California. He has written about film for Variety, the L.A. Times and, most recently, the Boston Globe.

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12 Responses to “Wild ✮✮”

  1. Arpaio Says:

    I just saw this, you are wrong. You are not just wrong, you sound like an overwrought child.

    Like

  2. Mareli Says:

    I was expecting more confrontational scenes with the wilderness and fewer flash backs which became too predictable at a certain point. It would have been more interesting for the movie to show what lesson from the wilderness helped her to overcome her demons.

    Like

  3. Kornus Gump Says:

    There’s nothing inherently wrong with films that deal w/self-help themes. It’s all about HOW it’s done. And not every scene needs to be understated to the point of alienation in order to be good – some dialogue can be a great accompaniment, a life raft to those less keen as you. Something tells me that you are turned off by anything that smells of the popular fad of self-help, and that you were set on writing a critique of it rather than the film.

    Also, Gravity gets 4 stars? That says a lot. Overrated, pseudo-spiritual, sentimental garbage if there ever was

    -k.gump

    Like

  4. Jgsanfrancisco Says:

    You sound like a bitter, jealous man who needs to compare a female driven film to a cheesy discount self help book or a cheerleader Oprah-approved tale for the vapid masses in order to justify how annoyed he is by powerful women, particularly ones who, by your estimation, are surrounded only by malleable doormats and creeps. You don’t appreciate that women were almost fully in charge here – the writer, the actor and the producer – and the only man was a director.

    Your opinion is off base: this film is nothing at all like the horrendous ‘Eat Pray Love’ and clearly you don’t understand the interior complexities of dynamic women.

    An aside: in my experience, anyone who actually writes down ‘Sheese’ as a sort of guttural dismissive is not particularly creative. Did you run out of words?

    Like

    • Glenn Lovell Says:

      Make a point of seeing “The Homesman” when it opens. It’s about a strong, empowered woman (played by Hilary Swank) in the West, circa 1850.

      It’s on my 10-best list.

      Thanks for the pointed feedback. Keep reading …

      Like

  5. Nancy Says:

    My take on this true story: there’s enough pain and misery in this world without going out looking for it. Sorry, but I didn’t find the heroine admirable or her adventure redemptive.

    Like

  6. Mrs. Walker Says:

    My only reaction to this “Terms of Endearment” ripoff (mom’s dead and a ghost here) is…

    …oh crap, think of how many more people are going to be stumbling through the high country in their REI accoutrements, tweeting their one-cheeked buttockry as a result of this godawful mess of bleep.

    On the other hand, a few might fall off hillsides…but besides that, you nailed this thing pneumatically. Thanks.

    I am a long time long distance and high country solo backpacker, and a woman. The view of menfolk in this movie was just toxic, and this wimpy chick wouldn’t know how to find a stuff sack in her outer pack pouch. Never mind her way through the wilderness. The latter is an immensely practical endeavor.

    But then I’ve always hated any genre of writing or film that tries to turn wilderness survival into some religio-magical formula. The idea that somebody could traverse the PT and be so ignorant of what’s around them, while being obsessed with navel gazing, is beyond irritating.

    This is what leads me to my frail hope that many many Oprah fans will try out remote hiking, and end up nourishing the wildlife. I hated this movie with a passion I usually reserve for political indoctrination propaganda films posing as history.

    Like

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