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And Wild makes Six: My take on the movie starring Reese Witherspoon

I gave you my list of my top 5 movies based on books for 2014 yesterday — not that it means a damn thing, which is why I don't usually do the list thing. Who am I to create a Best list? Ignoring my better instincts I did it anyway. Now, wouldn't you know it, I need to add Wild to the list. So that makes it my top 6 fave movies of 2014 or I could call it 5.1, whatever floats your boat.

The thing is I didn't get around to seeing Wild until New Years Eve day, and that was on my TV at home. So, while I've bragged about the nice size of our home TV,  I missed the pleasure of seeing Wild at the theater, the way it really should be seen. The scenery of the Pacific Crest Trail, the hot, hazy desert trail, the trees, the snow-covered expanses, must have looked stunning on a really big screen. Still, I liked the movie A LOT as I did Cheryl Strayed's book. I shared my thoughts on Strayed's memoir here on the site; I'm so happy that the film moved me deeply as well. It's one thing when movie adaptations get a work of fiction wrong, but messing up memoir, when the person is still quite alive and kicking? That would be embarrassing.

Reese Witherspoon and director Jean-Marc Vallee did not mess it up, rather they extracted the essence, the heart and soul of Strayed's book and reflected it back beautifully and accurately. I say Witherspoon and Vallee because it was pretty much Vallee directing a one woman show — I guess that's what you get when your movie is about a woman going on a solitary trek. Vallee, of course, was the director of last year's Dallas Buyers Club for which Matthew McConaughey won his Best Actor award, and while this was a very different film, it's clear Valle is able to help actors broach new territory. I don't think I've ever seen Reese Witherspoon being so raw, and brave, exposing both her inner and outer self. She carried both the monster backpack and the movie quite well. Even if that backpack was filled with puffed air, it was a sizable load, and little Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed made it look like she was carrying the world on her shoulders. Not surprisingly, the buzz has her in line for an Oscar nomination, in fact, as the only actress who could possibly take it away from Julianne Moore. I'm not going to play judge but it's def. a powerful 'Oscar-worthy' performance; the blood, sweat and tears don't hurt.

She was. A world of hurt. In an effective mix of flashbacks, dreams and visions, we see the pain of Strayed's past that led her to take this solitary journey. (Cheryl Strayed in a cameo, drops her cinematic self (Reese) off at a gas station at the Mojave desert, at the start of her trip.) Nick Hornby's script gave us pivotal scenes highlighting Strayed's failed relationship with her nice guy ex-husband played by Thomas Sadowski (The Newsroom), brief glimpses of her forays into random sexcapades, her boundless grief after her mother's early death at age 45 from cancer, interspersed with the day to day tales from the trail, the tedium, the difficulties, the torn toenails, the wrong equipment. All the elements I found myself recognizing with satisfaction from the book: yep, got that right. Oh yeah, those are those jerks. Unh huh, I know what happens with this guy. 

The score relied heavily on music Strayed could very well have been listening to; snatches of songs a character might be singing, a remembered favorite tune of her mother's on the car radio, Simon & Garfunkel's "If I could" all used to a dream-like effect, songs, tunes often bringing her deeper into an important memory, a milestone on her vision quest.

Wild, the movie, hit all the major touch points but as in the book, the most emotionally powerful moments for me were the ones that focused on her mother.  Laura Dern was sensational in evoking her mother's less than conventionally successful life, her unconditional love, her loose and playful attitude, dancing and teasing her kids like she was their pal, and then the hard hit of her illness and her death. She was much younger than my mother when she died — half her age — so it's not a comparable situation but watching a film so wrapped up in the loss of a mother,  I think most of us would be hard pressed not to think of our own mothers, or maybe even our fathers. How they were when we were kids, how we adored them, how we thought they were gods and goddesses. And then we grew up and saw them for who they were, and knew we'd never be like that. We'd be better. And here we are, many of us, anyway, just like them. Which isn't so terrible really, because for a very little while our own children see us as gods and goddesses too. And then, like us, they grow up and see us for who we are. Just people, with flaws and failings and dreams that didn't come true. But, if we're lucky, loved and remembered for who we tried to be, if not for who we were.

Happy Trails!
Here's the trailer in English

and in French ...

CLICK HERE to see the French poster for Wild