Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

22 September 2014


Wild is the story of a woman who has a lot of problems, and who – in order to find something out about herself, about the world, about who she wishes to be – hikes the Pacific Coast trail beginning in the California desert and ending way up north in Oregon. The movie is based on a memoir. It stars Reese Witherspoon, and it is really good.

I was totally skeptical of Wild. Mostly because I am skeptical of Reese Witherspoon and skeptical of Jean-Marc Vallée, who directed the awesome C.R.A.Z.Y. but also directed the Dallas Buyers Club and The Young Victoria. These two most recent films are straightforward narratives, and I didn't care for either of them, but Vallée's newest film is about memory, longing, and desire in the way that C.R.A.Z.Y. was, and this is what the director does really, really well. Reese hikes the trail, but she flashes back to events in her past, some of which we get only in the briefest of glimpses. The character confronts her memories piece by piece, as her hike is a way to deal with the things she has done, to come to terms with her grief and her own outrageous behavior.

The film is, by turns, quite funny, really intense, and even suspenseful at times. But this is not a movie about hiking or the inspirational possibilities of nature or anything like that. This is a movie about a woman dealing with herself and her situation in life. The director of the film society here referred to it as a more realistic Eat, Pray, Love, and maybe the comparison is a good one. Unlike EPL, though, this is a story about pushing one's self to the limits of one's own abilities in order to see if one can handle both the past and the future.

I want to be sure to note, though, that what's on show here is really excellent storytelling, most importantly accomplished through editing and direction. Memories come at the main character quickly, and then they are quickly pushed back if she doesn't want to deal with them. We get inside the character's head, and this learning about her doesn't work to explain her behavior as much as it works to help us process these things along with the character. As the things in the past happen, they feel less like revelations or ways of understanding why this character has done what she has done, and more like things we begin to shoulder with her. There is no third-act aha! moment that makes it all clear and helps us understand her. Instead, slowly but surely, we confront her past the way she confronts her past.

I have to say one more thing about Wild. Laura Dern plays Reese Witherspoon's mother in this, and she is amazing. It is a beautiful, beautiful performance. Even if Wild weren't as good as it is, it would totally be worth checking out just for her. As it is, Wild is worth it all around.

The Bunch

Can we also note that there are a million movies with Wild in the title? I mention this because I recently (finally) saw Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch and it is as awesome as everyone working on violence in cinema has been saying forever. (I would call it downright inspirational. It is just a genius film from start to finish.) But there's also Into the Wild, Wild Things, The Call of the Wild, The River Wild, as well as another famous movie starring Laura Dern: Wild at Heart. And I haven't even mentioned Wilde yet. There're a lot of Wilds, that's all I'm saying, and calling a movie simply Wild doesn't help things much; I'm also (to be honest) not sure what it has to do with the movie.