Film Review: Wild

I remember reading an interview with Reese Witherspoon at the end of last year about her up coming film Wild; the based on truth story of one woman’s trek across America in search of finding her true self. Witherspoon explaining how this role was her toughest to date, and how she actually didn’t know if she had it physically in her to undertake the task. That this was much as about proving she could do it as showing that someone already had.

And then people started talking about it as a potential pivotal moment in her career, reshaping her from the cheeky blonde comedian of Legally Blonde and Cruel Intentions into a serious leading force once again. Her, ultimately unsuccessful, Oscar nomination seeming to back this up. Things sounded so good, and with my love of Witherspoon’s films anyway, I even named Wild as one of the 10 films of 2015 I was most looking forward to.

Tracks Mia Wasikowska - Wild

I did however, have one niggling thought stuck in my mind. Was this film simply going to be the American version of Tracks. The Mia Wasikowska lead film about a girl walking across Australia to find herself. While there are obviously a lot of similarities in the outline of both films, that’s really all they share, an outline. Tacks is slow and repetitive and very focused on showing you every footstep, never really looking beyond the next inch of the walk where as Wild wants to round things off, it wants to give you a bigger picture. The walk almost becoming secondary to the woman.

This wider angle created a problem for me though because I felt the story had been brought to life in a way that meant that it never felt cinematic. I remember listening to an interview with Hobbit writer Philippa Boyens in which she explained why large parts of the film deviate from Tolkein’s text, not because they think they know middle earth better than it’s creator, but simply because the way a story has to be told on film is so different to the way you tell it in text. And that’s my point. Wild feels like it’s been lifted straight from text and not translated into video. It just somehow feels misguided in places in the way it speaks to you, and as a result it creates a tone of artificialness that meant I never truly brought into it.

Reese Witherspoon & Laura Dern - Wild

There were passages of the film where a flashback or a joke would seemingly feel wrong and out of place because the context was stuck in the wrong medium. You can imagine in a book, with a more reflective tone, a recalling memory of events feeling right but on film it broke the tension and left you more bemused and confused than informed and educated. It’s like someone telling a joke only to see it fall flat leaving no other choice but to follow it up with “well I guess you had to be there.” The only problem is that this time we were.

I also really struggled to buy into the characters. The film is essentially lead by Witherspoon, supported by Laura Dern as her mother. Or Cheryl and Bobbi as you’re meant to see them. But I was never convinced by them. They never really moved me, Witherspoon especially never looking truly comfortable herself with the character and this unease is relayed into you. Dern is better, but is constantly dragged back down by Witherspoon, working together to create nothing more than famous faces with unfamiliar names.

Roller Coaster Climb - Wild

Moving one, there is, however, one major risk with any film that is so focused on a single point of reference. That of pacing. When you are relying on so little it is very easy to become monotonous, repetitive and stale. Tracks is the direct example, while The Duke Of Burgundy, The Homesman and Boyhood more recent examples. I cannot, however, truly throw the same accusation at Wild. The story never feels like it’s become stationary, but rather more comparable to that of a rollercoaster ascending the climb, seemingly getting slower and slower before cresting, picking up pace, delivery a few seconds of speed before returning to the sedation of its next juttering climb. I was never bored by it but it would certainly drop my attention more often that nothing. Never fully engrossing me or drawing me in to it. I never felt it’s heart or passion.

I was looking forward to Wild because of the ideas planted by Witherspoon’s descriptions and the subsequent praise her performance earned, more than the actual story. But when you put it all together it just fell short. It honestly, wasn’t a case of expecting too much, because I didn’t really know what to expect, but nothing seemed to really combine together in a satisfying way. It’s an interesting film but I still don’t feel I fully understand it. I get the superficial question of why but not the important emotional one. I’ve met Cheryl Strayed, but don’t feel I truly know her.

6 out of 10 stars (6 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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