American comedian Dave Chappelle once said in an ‘Inside the Actor’s Studio’ interview, “The worst thing to call somebody is ‘crazy’. It’s dismissive. I don’t understand this person. So they’re crazy.”
You find yourself sorely tempted to mutter the same thing as ‘Wild’ opens to a scene of a haggard-looking woman pulling a toenail off and then flinging a boot off the cliff.
‘Wild’ is a biographical film written by acclaimed screenwriter Nick Hornby (known for his work in ‘High Fidelity’ and ‘About a Boy’) and based on a 2012 memoir by writer Cheryl Strayed titled ‘Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail’.
The film begins with Cheryl’s personal story – a woman whose existence is sent into a steep nosedive after she loses her mother, Bobbi (Laura Dern), to cancer.
Cheryl (Reese Witherspoon) talks about the death of her mother right at the beginning, and everything springs from that moment. She takes a backpack and goes off on a walk that covers 1,770km.
Wilderness epics go way back to the start of cinema. From the 1912 silent film ‘The Conquest of the Pole’ to ‘Jeremiah Johnson’ (1972) to ‘Into the Wild’ (2007) to ‘127 Hours’ (2010), all of which have traced the paths of men who wanted to walk away from civilisation.
‘Wild’ brings to mind Swedish director Ingmar Bergman’s ‘Wild Strawberries’ (1957), where the female lead goes on a journey and keeps meeting people who bring up something she needs to address in her life.
The film – like the book – is very much a solo journey. The people Cheryl meets are almost incidental.
In the beginning, Cheryl comes across as quite naïve to be undertaking such a trip with almost no preparation. It just seems to her throughout the journey that the universe keeps trying to tear her down, but she decides she will not let it.
Witherspoon is as abrasive as you have ever seen on screen. Probably the best thing is seeing her without any make-up at all, swearing like a grouch.
The film was shot primarily in Oregon (USA), and there is much to admire in the vastness of the landscapes.
Director Vallée achieves what he set out to do in his previous offering ‘Dallas Buyers’ Club’ (2013), running a really flexible and low-budget film set which breeds cinematic realism, all the while raising his stock as an independent director.
With his help, we get to watch a story that largely unfolds inside one woman’s head – a flood of memories, fears, ideas, songs, anger and awe that lead to a transformation.
‘Wild’ opens 5 February 2015