A bright but maybe a little spoiled University student (Reese Witherspoon)’s world falls apart after the unexpected death of her mother (Laura Dern). After a particularly dark period where she turned to heroine and compulsive sex instead of what seemed like a pretty strong support network, she decides to hike the 1,100 mile Pacific Coast Trail (PCT, as everyone keeps calling it) in hopes to find herself along the way. Having packed way too much, all the wrong things, and boots that are way too small, her trip gets off to a rough start but before long, she starts to realize that she may be tougher than she might be made of stronger stuff than she ever thought possible.
Adapted from Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, this is an awards season must-see with Reese being almost gauranteed an Oscar nomination. It’s not necessarily a movie I would have ever gone to see otherwise but my annual quest to be as prepared for Oscar night as possible has led me to sit through worse. My main concern was Reese Witherspoon. Not that I have a full-on hate-on for her; in fact, she can really rise to the ocassion when she gets a good part. She’s just not one of those actors I would have thought to be compelling enough to watch wander through the desert alone.
Reese turns out to be more than up for this challenge, equally convincing during Cheryl’s journey of self-discovery as she is during flashbacks of her near self-destruction. Director Jean-Marc Vallée may deserve some of the credit for this. Between Wild and last year’s Dallas Buyer’s Club,, he seems to have found a niche for himself getting egoless performances from movie stars who have done a few romantic comedies too many.
Vallée and Witherspoon have their work cut out for them to keep this all from getting dull. Luckily, the film cuts to flashbacks often enough to keep this interesting and rarely stays in the same place in time for very long. The flashbacks are handled beautifully, more of a stream of consciousness than following a rigid structure. Strayed seems to have learnt more from this journey than I did though and it’s not always as profound as it would like you to think it is but it’s one of the best edited and acted movies you’re likely to see this season.