In Films by James Hay - Cinema Editor

To carry an entire movie on your shoulders is a heavy burden for any actor but one that Reese Witherspoon ably picks up with the same determination as the ‘monster’ backpack she carries with her throughout Jean-Marc Vallée‘s Wild. The backpack serves as a very solid and obvious metaphor for her journey; a weight she systematically lightens as she progresses along her 1,000 mile trek, realising she’s been carrying far too much baggage, she discards what she no longer needs. Be this the dozen condoms she’s packed for a trip walking alone across the desert or the painful emotions and repressed memories which she’s simultaneously trying to escape and exorcise

The cinematographic personality is somewhat schizophrenic, on the one hand adopting quite an intimate documentary style, on the other a pretty sweeping and accomplished piece of narrative filmmaking. Never quite digging as deep into those intensely personal moments as it could but in so doing allowing the time and space for the story to breathe. All the while Ms Witherspoon gallantly leads the way with a quite lovely mix of natural comedic timing and experienced pathos. She’s surprisingly pleasant to watch and perhaps needed this solo vehicle to propel herself into the next stage of her career.

Some of the nudity smacks of the gratuitous and actually outside the tone of the film, not exactly jeopardising anything but certainly feeling unnecessary. The flaws of Witherspoon’s Cheryl need to be exposed and her grief and guilt made stark, she must bare all, but after the fourth or fifth time you see her breasts, the point has already been well made.

Laura Dern, as the ethereal mother figure, floating in and out of flashback and montage sequences, manages to carve out a little corner of the film all for herself. Her relationship with Witherspoon being the central anchor to this story, their chemistry becomes essential to its success. Luckily they find a gentle alchemy resting somewhere between realism and romanticism, in fact mirroring the sentiment of the whole piece.

But it’s Witherspoon’s film and she is captivating, blurring the lines between damsel in distress and unforgivable bitch. In fact it’s these flaws that make the character, and as a result the film, convincing. You can connect because you can relate. Her determination can’t be faulted however and, as with the real Cheryl Strayed, to walk 1,000 miles alone across a desert to escape your life and find a better one on the other side deserves some respect. As does this film.