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Wild (AF)

5/10

Stars: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski, Gaby Hoffmann, Kevin Rankin, Michiel Huisman, W. Earl Brown, Nick Eversman, Mo McRae.

Director: Jean-Marc Vallée

Yet another ‘Based on a True Story’ offering Wild finds painfully thin Reese Witherspoon giving her all – and then some – to portray the real-life Cheryl Strayed whose best-selling biography was the basis for Nick Hornby’s less-than-linear screenplay, which follows Strayed more than 1000 miles on the US Pacific Crest Trail after “years of reckless behavior, a heroin addiction and the destruction of her marriage”.

I watched Wild before Witherspoon was named as one of this year’s contenders for Best Actress Academy Award. And I find it hard to recall a more obvious anything-and-everything-goes “GIVE ME THE OSCAR!” performance.

Other actors appear on screen to fill in the few gaps in which Witherspoon isnÂ’t claiming possession of the current shot, notably Laura Dern who stands out in flashbacks as StrayedÂ’s mother and who, for my money, actually earned her Oscar nomination with a memorable performance.

The line ”I'm lonelier in my real life than I am out here. I miss my friends, of course, but it's not as if I have anybody waiting for me at home” neatly sums up Witherspoon’s character and motivation. Despite meeting a variety of characters, some more convincing than others, on her grueling trek, the focus is firmly on her - and her Oscar ambitions. (We first meet Witherspoon on a mountain peak where she goes chasing after her runaway shoes, which have fallen into a ravine – having thrown one shoe over the edge to join the runaway).

Witherspoon, rake thin and juggling with a massive blue backpack, gives good value in a movie that tends to drag and which could have done with two major changes.

The first, patently, is that Wild is simply overlong. ItÂ’s inherent that WitherspoonÂ’s character is bound to succeed at the end, so suspense is largely lacking.

The second is the screenplay structure.

While it eventually reveals the very necessary backstory to explain why Witherspoon is forcing herself to undertake a possibly fatal journey, the exposition is fragmentarily shown in small sequences. It would, in my opinion have been far better to establish the reasons for her mountain odyssey earlier on.

Director Jean-Marc Vallee, who guided the stars of Dallas Buyers Club to their Oscars last year, gets the uttermost (and perhaps a tad too much) out of his star. Dallas Buyers Club cinematographer Yves Belanger makes the most of Oregon and Mojave Desert locations and more often than not succeeds in dragging the viewer into the loneliness suffered by Witherspoon. Ultimately, I was rather more impressed by the visuals than by the narrative.

In the end I was left admiring Strayed rather more her screen story here.

Alan Frank

USA 2014. UK Distributor: 20th Century Fox (Fox Searchlight). Colour.
115 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 2, Swearing 2.

Review date: 17 Jan 2015