Thursday, February 5, 2015

Review of WILD: Questionable Quest

February 5, 2015

Depressed after a family tragedy involving her mother, Cheryl Strayed decided to embark on a long hard hike along the punishing Pacific Crest Trail to recover her bearings and to heal herself. "Wild" follows Cheryl on her harrowing 1,100 mile solo hike, as she faced potential and real dangers from mother nature and from fellow humans along the way.

Reese Witherspoon is getting award nominations for playing Cheryl. However, I am not engaged by her performance. Her enormous backpack looks really heavy, but it seemed like the difficulty stopped there. The rest of the time, her hardships of the hike were obviously just acting, never felt real to me. It does not also help that the character she is portraying does not inspire my sympathy as she was written. The way this film portrayed Cheryl, she had unrealistically over-the-top responses to regular challenges we all face as human beings. Her losses were not particularly extraordinary to push her to such unreasonable extremes of negative behavior.

Laura Dern scored a surprise Oscar nomination for her very fleeting appearance here as Cheryl's mother Bobbi. In those few minutes onscreen, I can already see why Cheryl was devastated by what happened to her mother. The portrayal of Ms. Dern is very effective and memorable despite its brevity. Laura Dern made more of an impact on me in those few minutes, than Witherspoon in the whole film. Dern's affecting performance was the saving grace of this film for me.

The beautifully photographed desert and snow vistas aside, I did not like the way director Jean-Marc Vallee told Cheryl's story, unlike the way he handled "Dallas Buyers Club" last year. In that film, Matthew McConaughey's character was a homophobic sex addict, not exactly hero material. Yet the way his story was told by Vallee, we still rooted for him to get through his ordeal with AIDS. This did not happen for me in this film in Cheryl's case. I see her physical journey and her emotional journey. But the spiritual journey, which was supposed to uplift and inspire me, I did not see.

Among the Oscar-nominated films this year, this is the film that I do not get what the awards buzz was about. This film is based on Strayed's memoirs entitled ""Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail". I get the "Lost" part. But the film never gave me the "Found" part. 5/10.

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