As a film, ‘Wild’ is a bit tame

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Wednesday, December 10, 2014 8:21pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

Maybe there’s something in Cheryl Strayed’s writing voice that has enthralled readers of her bestselling memoir, “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail,” an account of a solo walking journey. If so, that voice hasn’t translated to the movie version.

The film stars Reese Witherspoon, who also produced it. You can see why the star wanted the material: it’s a big role, full of bad behavior and attitude and acting-out.

We meet Cheryl Strayed (she made up the last name) as she embarks on hiking a thousand miles of the PCT. We also see plenty of flashbacks to an unhappy life — promiscuity and drug abuse are highlighted — and track the sad fate of Strayed’s mother (Laura Dern).

Strayed begins her hike in the Mojave Desert, aiming to end at the Bridge of the Gods, which spans the Columbia River. She loses her boots, messes up her food supply, and carries too much stuff in her backpack.

And people complained about the guy in “Into the Wild” being ill-prepared. Still, Strayed presses on, meeting a few interesting people (and a few alarming ones) along the trail.

Witherspoon brings her customary pluck to the role, and her strength is convincing. I didn’t buy her as the wild girl of Strayed’s past, however; Witherspoon projects a little too much sanity for that.

Strayed’s book was adapted by novelist Nick Hornby, and is directed by Jean-Marc Vallee, of “Dallas Buyers Club.” They use some creaky symbolism (a fox serves as Strayed’s spirit animal) to push the story along.

The approach smacks of a lack of confidence — after all, it is tough to make a movie about a woman walking along a path. But it’s especially irritating because it takes the grandness of nature and the challenge of hiking a long trail and puts them entirely in service of one person sorting through her problems.

Most of the movie was shot in Oregon, and it offers a variety of scenic pleasures. But if you’re going to choose one 2014 release about a woman walking alone across a great distance, make it “Tracks,” another true story (with Mia Wasikowska in western Australia). That film at least touched on a real sense of mystery about solitary activity — what does drive people to “get away” so completely, anyway? By comparison, “Wild” seems like someone going through the motions.

“Wild” (2 1/2 stars)

Reese Witherspoon plays Cheryl Strayed, a memoirist whose trek along a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail helped heal a life of wayward behavior. The Oregon scenery’s nice, but too many forced moments make the movie feel like someone going through the motions.

Rating: R, for language, nudity, subject matter

Showing: Egyptian, Meridian

Also see: Our Q&A with Cheryl Strayed

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