Will Reese Witherspoon win an Oscar for "Wild" because she overcomes the hardship of wearing a really heavy backpack for most of the film? I sure as hell hope not, but she probably will, because Hollywood is stupid. In any case, this movie was awful, and terrible for women. Wild was by far the worst movie I saw this year—and I saw Heaven Is For Real.
Now, I have not read Cheryl Strayed's memoir, Wild, upon which this movie is based. Thank you for asking. I do not believe this fact will have bearing on my review of the film Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon. Please keep them as separate works of art in your mind.
Wild has been heavily marketed as Witherspoon's comeback film, aiming to bring her yet again into the entertainment electorate's good graces through her portrayal of a strong yet aggrieved woman. The hope of Witherspoon's public relations arm seems to be that this performance will erase that delicious moment from our memories when she revealed her true, entitled celebrity self to a few cops in Georgia a year and a half ago when they arrested her husband for a DUI. Lucky for her, the public is easily distracted, but the arc of Wikipedia is long.
In this movie Witherspoon bends from type to portray Cheryl Strayed, a woman dealing with sex and drug addiction and the premature loss of her mother who decides to hike the entirety of the Pacific Crest Trail. I gather Strayed, in real life, is a from-the-earth type. I mean, she has a Bob Marley T-shirt and thinks hiking will solve her problems. She's like the white Oprah, if her advice column is any indication. But Witherspoon, even when acting as Cheryl, is none of these things. This movie proves that Witherspoon couldn't act like a sympathetic character if there was an Uzi to her back. Witherspoon is a sniveling, Flickian, narcissistic bitch, and therefore this so-called story of redemption—Woman Goes on 1,000-Mile Hike to Cleanse Herself of Sins and Find Herself—comes across not as real or raw or uplifting but just another tale of easy blonde triumph.
Take the hike, the central narrative of the film. It goes like this: Reese, er, Cheryl, walks for a bit, grunting and sweating, and humming a song that reminds her of her dead mom (played by Laura Dern, trying her damned hardest to carry this saccharine dump of a movie). Then she has a flashback to her dead mom doing something virtuous because her dead mom is an angel with no flaws. She emerges from her flashback to meet a male stranger on the trail, thinks the male stranger is going to rape her, but then the male stranger ends up being really nice and helps her because somehow she has run out of food and water even though her backpack is 150 lbs (it is full of books?). Repeat cycle for two hours.
So Cheryl gets through the trek with the help of many male strangers who provide her sustenance and advice and don't want to have sex with her (although she does have sex, consensually, with one man, after a Grateful Dead tribute concert, in a yurt). All in all, a very good feminist message.
This was not a good movie for Reese (what I would have given to see her as Amy in Gone Girl!). I love a complicated female lead, but the most confusing thing about Reese's Cheryl is why she doesn't stick with the really good cheap therapist she sees for one scene in the movie (he asks very smart questions of her) and instead feels the need to commit herself to the clichés of nature and Emily Dickinson to find her lioness within. While this may have been what happened in the book, Reese does nothing to convince us of Cheryl's primal motivations to go back to nature, and leaves us wishing she stayed in treatment. Unfortunately for the film, while therapists' offices are often very helpful for personal transformations, they do not make for good cinematographic backdrops.
I'm not a total hater of movies based on memoirs by women (even though I think a person should exhaust every other possible avenue of creative a/o therapeutic expression before turning to writing down their personal story for public sale). I'm one of three people I know who liked Eat, Pray, Love. But that's because Julia Roberts fucking crushed that role. That movie was uncomfortable as heck but also very happy and fun. Julia put herself through the meat grinder to do justice to Elizabeth Gilbert. It may be the same meat grinder she went through for every other role she's played, but it's fun to watch every time. I can't say the same for Reese and whatever hippie bullshit she tried to fabricate for this movie. Her performance, unlike the vistas of the Pacific Crest Trail, was as soulless as a parking lot.
[Pic via Getty]