Austin Film Festival 2014
By Don Simpson | October 29, 2014
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Writers: Nick Hornby, Cheryl Strayed (memoir)
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Gaby Hoffmann, Laura Dern, Michiel Huisman, Kevin Rankin, Charles Baker, W. Earl Brown, Brian Van Holt, J.D. Evermore, Mo McRae, Thomas Sadoski, Nick Eversman
Based on Cheryl Strayed’s (Reese Witherspoon) real life existential trek that took her 1,100 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail, Jean-Marc Vallée’s Wild plays like a Hollywood-ized adaptation of a superficial tale of self-discovery and redemption that Oprah might have given a stamp of approval — oh wait, she did. For a story like Wild to work, it needs to put the audience inside of Strayed’s mind; but Nick Hornby’s screenplay relies way too much on an over-expository inner-dialogue.
Vallée’s direction seems too impatient to allow the narrative to unfold at a natural pace; the trajectory of the arc seems far too obvious and contrived. Time passes rapidly from one dramatic scene to the next; all the while, a bunch of flashbacks that over explain Strayed’s past are gratuitously interspersed. It is as if someone with ADHD is constantly clicking the forward and back buttons on the remote, but sometimes it might prove to be more beneficial to just press the pause button for a bit. The audience is never given the opportunity to get lost with Strayed or experience the loneliness of her long journey. So while Strayed’s story seems to be about forgetting her past and moving on, Wild gets bogged down in the dirty details of Strayed’s extramarital affairs and heroin use.
When given the opportunity, Reese Witherspoon proves that she would have been game for a quieter, more meditative analysis of Strayed’s mostly solitary hike. There is no doubt that Witherspoon was attracted to the toughness and tenacity of Strayed; but one might also assume that she saw an opportunity to prove herself to be a reputable dramatic actor, one that could hold scenes entirely on her own. The problem is that Vallée falls prey to Hollywood’s ever-present fear of allowing actors’ actions and expressions to replace dialogue. Strayed’s inner-dialogue is really no different than Tom Hanks’ conversations with “Wilson” the volleyball in Cast Away, it is just a fool-hearted attempt to keep a solitary character talking. Hollywood directors have seem to forgotten that cinema is first and foremost a visual medium, sometimes words are not the most effective and efficient way to tell a story.