Monday, 19 January 2015
FILM REVIEW: WILD
20th Century Fox Films
Not quite 12 months ago, Mia Wasikowska, four camels and a dog packed up and headed into the Australian interior on a journey of self discovery and an exorcism of personal demons. That film, Tracks, directed by John Curran, was based on the bestselling memoir by Robyn Davidson who undertook that perilous trek in the 1970s.
In 2010, Cheryl Strayed walked out of her life and on to the the Pacific Crest Trail, undertaking the 1100-mile trek in a similarly challenging journey of self exploration and exorcism. Wild, directed by Jean-Marc Vallee (Dallas Buyers Club) and also based on a true story and personal memoir (adapted by Brit author Nick Hornby), shares many themes and ideas with Curran's film but it is very much its own undertaking.
For one, the film's two heroines couldn't be more different. Cheryl (Reese Witherspoon) is the polar opposite of Davidson's loner; the American forced to a fork in her road following the death of her mother and 'love of her life' (Laura Dern) and her subsequent downward spiral of extreme and extrovert behaviour (drugs, casual sex with random strangers, divorce). She needs to get her life back on track, and walking away from it all seems to be the answer.
As Cheryl undertakes the trek, which she is amusingly unprepared for -- too much of the wrong equipment and ill-fitting shoes -- we see glimpses of her life pre and post-grief: her happy but by no means idyllic childhood, where she, her brother and mother survive the wrath of a drunken, abusive father; her mother's illness; her self-abuse as a coping mechanism following her mother's death; the collapse of her marriage (Thomas Sadoski plays the husband); and the friend who is there to catch and slap her when she hits rock bottom (Gaby Hoffmann, pulling BFF duties again after Obvious Child).
Like his 2011 film Cafe de Flore, Vallee tells Cheryl's story through editing; a hallucinatory collage which eventually connects the dots of Cheryl's life as it unspools before her, stream of consciousness-like, as she struggles with her emotions and the elements on the Pacific Crest Trail. (If Tracks gave us too little access to its heroine, her thoughts, feelings and motivations, then Wild arguably gives us too much.)
Witherspoon (a producer on the film, and having a good year after also producing David Fincher's Gone Girl) gets her meatiest screen role since winning the Best Actress Oscar in 2005 (for Walk The Line), and there's similar buzz around this performance and not just for the superficial 'de-glamming, vanity-free' nature of the role: Witherspoon embraces the role of this headstrong though not entirely logical woman who, unprepared for the hardships of her adventure, is bruised and bloodied both literally and metaphorically.
That Strayed survived, got her life back on track and published a successful memoir (Wild: From Lost To Found on the Pacific Crest Trail) is testament to her own strength but also her grieving process: grief is a personal thing and there is no right way to experience it.
Similarly, if you saw -- and loved -- Tracks, there's no reason not to go along for Wild too; each film is as personal and rewarding for the viewer as the journeys were for their respective heroines.