Magazine article Variety

Thesp Hikes Her Game

Magazine article Variety

Thesp Hikes Her Game

Article excerpt

Thesp Hikes Her Game

Cheryl Strayed's heart-rending 2012 account of her 1,100-mile hike along the Pacific Crest TYail presented no shortage of obstacles en route to the bigscreen, not least in the way it used the great outdoors as the backdrop for a resolutely interior journey. But director Jean-Marc Vallee, screenwriter Nick Hornby and star-producer Reese Witherspoon have met the challenge head-on with imperfect but rewarding results in "Wild," a ruggedly beautiful and emotionally resonant saga of perseverance and self-discovery that represents a fine addition to the recent bumper crop of bigscreen survival stories. Resting squarely on Witherspoon's sturdy shoulders (along with the back-crushing backpack she carts around throughout), the Fox Searchlight release should be admiringly received by critics and arthouse audiences come Dec. 5.

Still, the film could face some competition from John Curran's equally accomplished "Tracks" (set to open Sept. 19 Stateside), this year's other adaptation of a bestselling woman-in-the-wilderness memoir, and it remains to be seen whether it can improve on the modest commercial performance of films like "Into the Wild," "127 Hours" and "All Is Lost."

Unlike "Into the Wild's" Christopher McCandless, Cheryl Strayed (born Cheryl Nyland, before she chose her wayward-sounding surname) lived to tell the tale, and did so with no shortage of brutal honesty and hard-bitten humor - an element that finds a natural complement in Hornby's own sharply funny instincts as a

writer. Indeed, the filmmakers have arguably mastered the material's subtle, sardonic insights more so than its big emotional moments, most of which involve Strayed's beloved mother, Bobbi (Laura Dern), whose death from lung cancer at the age of 45 set off her 22-yearold daughter's startling downward spiral into sex and heroin addiction, culminating in the end of her marriage. In condensing the book into a fleet drama that clocks in at just under two hours, Hornby has moved Bobbi's tragic decline from the beginning of the story to the middle - a shrewd decision that nonetheless feels a bit too calculated in the execution, too neatly arranged to maximize the film's slow-building emotional crescendo.

Still, "Wild" is never less than involving as it follows Witherspoon's Cheryl from the Mojave Desert, in the summer of 1995, to the Oregon-Washington border more than three months later, deftly maneuvering between her past and present sufferings. …

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