sun 25/02/2024

Wild | reviews, news & interviews



Reese Witherspoon gives a raw, searching performance in Nick Hornby's deft memoir adaptation

Made for walking: Witherspoon plays the grief-stricken Cheryl Strayed

Stream-of-consciousness is a tough thing to pull off in the movies. Voice-over narration has now fallen so far out of favour that no internal monologue survives the journey from page to screen even remotely intact, and having your lead character slavishly deliver chunks of a novel seldom recreates the odd magic of reading those same words in one’s own head.

But with his deft adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s bruising memoir Wild, Nick Hornby has pulled off an unusually close approximation of the literary stream-of-consciousness. Blending hazy voice-over and staccato flashbacks alongside a near-silent central narrative, Hornby situates us firmly inside the muzzy-headed reality of Cheryl (Reese Witherspoon) as she treks over 1,000 miles of desert and mountain in the grips of physical and emotional exhaustion.

Unmoored by the sudden and untimely death of her mother (Laura Dern) four years prior, Strayed set out impulsively to hike the gruelling Pacific Crest Trail in order to jolt herself out of despair and addiction. “I don’t know when I became such a piece of shit,” she murmurs to a long-suffering friend (Gaby Hoffman), having hit rock bottom with heroin and unplanned pregnancy – this is one of many exchanges we see play out in half-remembered snippets, neatly combining exposition with psychological texture.

Reese Witherspoon in WildDirector Jean-Marc Vallée takes the same punch-drunk approach to Wild’s entire soundscape: its stellar soundtrack (Simon & Garfunkel, Springsteen) is made up wholly of the earworms that shuffle into Cheryl’s head as she walks, while her dry observations to herself overlap with voiceover; the two are distinguishable only if you watch to see if Witherspoon’s lips are moving. The effect is evocative, capturing the universally familiar feeling of what it is to be genuinely alone with your thoughts.

Strayed’s is a powerful, bruisingly honest story that had the potential to be transformed into an Eat, Pray, Love-like nightmare on the big screen. Instead Hornby and director Jean-Marc Vallée capture the howling despair and numb bewilderment of grief with steely detail, and chronicle a love story between mother and daughter that is wistful but utterly unsentimental. Cheryl’s relationship to the luminous, instantly loveable Dern is the only really developed relationship in Wild, her present-day encounters with fellow travellers serve largely as ways back into her past.

Witherspoon gives a dry, earthy and unassuming performance which feels steeped in pain – her delivery of the early and self-deluded line, “I’m the girl who says yes instead of no”, speaks volumes about Cheryl’s broken coping mechanisms. It’s her grounded performance that allows Wild to get away with the occasional hokey dialogue moment, where truisms and platitudes creep in to substitute for believable conversation. Hornby’s only real mis-step lies in the film’s final moments, where he abandons all structural subtlety and simply has Witherspoon read out huge chunks of Strayed’s prose in a lengthy and overly pat final voice-over.

Wild is in the end a remarkably specific, evocative story of loss and self-reliance, with Vallée’s vivid sensory instincts and Hornby’s shrewd literary ones marrying to create an unusually complete adaptation of Strayed’s moving memoir.

Hornby and director Jean-Marc Vallée capture the howling despair and numb bewilderment of grief with steely detail


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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