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REVIEW: “Wild” – A trip worth taking

"Wild" stars Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern.
“Wild” stars Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern.

“Wild,” which stars Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern, is based on the bestselling memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.

It is a thoughtful and beautifully shot movie about a woman named Cheryl Strayed, played and co-produced by Witherspoon, who somewhat impulsively decides to hike 1,100 miles alone on the Pacific Crest Trail to deal with a family tragedy and a struggling marriage.

Right from the start, we sense that Strayed is a beginner with no experience, as she carries a backpack that she can barely lift, humorously referred to as “The Monster,” as it contains items she’ll never use.

This is not just a hiking movie; the movie features quite a bit of flashbacks so that we learn about Strayed’s past, in which after the tragedy she becomes somewhat of a heroin and sex addict. Strayed is raised, along with her younger brother Lief, by a single mother Bobbi (Laura Dern) and at one point, both mom and daughter are attending college together. Much of the movie deals with Strayed’s devotion to her mom.

Both Dern and Witherspoon’s characters are vulnerable and emotionally raw. Witherspoon gives an excellent performance that is deserving of an Oscar nomination, while Dern comes through with a moving portrayal of a loving and optimistic mom.

Strayed faces danger along the way on her three-month adventure, from rattlesnakes and wild animals to men with unwholesome intentions. Luckily, there are also those who want to help her on her trek.

There are definitely similarities between this film and the movie “Into the Wild,” where a recent college graduate decides to journey to Alaska by foot and live off the land. Both protagonists are trying to escape their painful past, go on a solitary journey of self-discovery, and push themselves to their utmost limits. You also feel in each case as if you are there in a sense; you are completely immersed in the surroundings. The authenticity really comes through.

I did have some quibbles with the movie. I found Laura Dern not believable to be playing a mom to Reese Witherspoon’s character (in actuality they’re only nine years apart). Nor did I buy Witherspoon playing a 20-something undergraduate college student in flashbacks.

Witherspoon seems to be trying to diversify with her recent roles.  Last year, she was in the highly acclaimed indie picture “Mud,” while this year, she’s had supporting roles in “Devil’s Knot,” “The Good Lie,” and “Inherent Vice.”

All these movies show that Witherspoon is willing to take chances on less commercial kinds of films. (She also was a producer on “Gone Girl,” which while clearly mainstream, demonstrated a willingness on her part to branch out beyond acting.)

Witherspoon makes this a powerful journey worth experiencing. Her character is one whom we come to care about and empathize with.

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