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So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Movie Review - Wild

Wild (2014)
Starring Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Gaby Hoffmann, and Thomas Sadoski
Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée

To begin this review of Wild, I'm going to quote a line from my review of Dallas Buyers Club, a film also directed by Jean-Marc Vallée which went on to win several Academy Awards last year:

"Dallas Buyers Club doesn't have the emotional arcs I want in a film like this.  The film doesn't drive its story forward in such a way that feels exciting or impacting."

Unfortunately, that's the same way I feel about Wild, the true story of Cheryl Strayed, a young woman who, after the death of her mother steered her down a path of alcohol, drugs, and promiscuous sex hurting her caring husband in the process, decides to hike solo the 1,100 mile  Pacific Crest Trail in order to find peace within herself.  Vallée's two recent works simply fail to elicit the emotional impact that their hefty stories should deliver.  Something's missing from Vallée's work and despite his more than adequate visual style, Wild left me feeling empty.

Part of the issue with Wild is its desire to tell a huge chunk of its emotional core in flashback.  The film opens with Cheryl beginning her trek across the West Coast, only allowing us brief puzzle piece-like flashbacks of what got Cheryl to this point in her life.  As the viewers piece together the flashbacks, I found myself frustrated by two things.  First, the flashbacks are very fragmented seemingly in an attempt to not clue the viewer in on everything right away.  Yes, I know the screenwriter may say they're fragmented because Cheryl's mind was wandering as she wandered the trail, but the disjointed nature of the flashbacks proved frustrating to me in part because I felt like they were trying to "hide" key aspects of Cheryl's life until pivotal moments in the hiking portion of her story.  Piggybacking off of that, the second issue is that although they attempted to keep portions of her past secret, it was incredibly easy to infer what had happened, so if any of these hidden aspects of her past were supposed to be a surprise emotionally, they weren't in the slightest.

Ultimately, the biggest problem with these flashbacks and the way they were set up is that they failed to create an emotional arc for the character.  Tossing scenes in seemingly willy-nilly didn't allow for the audience to latch on to Cheryl's admittedly painful early twenties during which she found herself in much turmoil.  Adding to this, Cheryl is a smart cookie.  She's well educated and quite knowledgeable about literature and the arts.  This causes her, in the film's pivotal moments, to speak almost too poetically for her own good.  I will admit, this is more a fault of mine than the film's, but I found myself zoning out whenever she waxed eloquently about a poet or an author.

Reese Witherspoon is good, appearing in every scene of the film, but as I said, I didn't find myself connecting with her character.  I don't think that's a fault of hers, but rather the script and the directing, but I found myself wishing I could've liked her role more.

Despite my qualms, Wild isn't a bad film -- neither was Dallas Buyers Club, for that matter.  Both are just missing that emotional connection that quite frankly should come without question in films like these.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

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