Reese Witherspoon, a girl gone Wild

It’s a gutsy and deglamorized Reese Witherspoon who carries the show in Wild, a well-made and picturesque adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s best-selling memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail.

Toting a backpack almost as big as she is, Witherspoon’s Cheryl is determined to walk the Trail, which extends from Mexican border to the Canadian border, during which she will reflect upon her life, a life that’s been marred by grief and disappointment.

Director Jean-Marc Vallee, following last year’s Oscar-winning Dallas Buyers Club – itself a true story about a real character – again allows the character to drive the story, and Witherspoon (also a producer of the film) is certainly up to the task. Laura Dern (as Cheryl’s late mother), Thomas Sadoski (as Cheryl’s exhusband), Gaby Hoffmann and Cliff de Young also appear to good effect – mostly in flashbacks – but only Cheryl emerges as a fully realized character in Nick Hornsby’s episodic screenplay. Then again, it’s her story and told completely from her perspective. This has been touted as something of a comeback for Witherspoon (and certainly qualifies as Oscar bait), and it’s good to see her tackle an arduous role so convincingly.

Cinematographer Yves Belanger (also encoring from Dallas Buyers Club) has great locations to work with, and certainly makes the most of them. The outcome of Wild is never in doubt, but it’s the journey itself that matters.