A Profound Meditation On Loss, Regret, Acceptance And Rediscovery, Wild Takes Some Impressive Turns.

Wild.
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée.
Writer: Nick Hornby (screenplay), Cheryl Strayed (memoir: Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail).
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern.
Playing At: Angelika Film Center (Dallas).

I don't know about you, but I've done some things in my life that I'm not particularly proud about. Some I can look back on and laugh at now. Others still make me cringe when I think about them.

We all have those memories: Mistakes and regrets are two of the many things that make us human. It's how we deal with them that shapes who we become.

Wild, directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club) and starring Reese Witherspoon (Walk the Line), is about mistakes and regret. But it focuses on the road to recovery — which, in this case, is literally one long-ass hike of 1,100 miles, to be exact.

Based on Cheryl Strayed's memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, and adapted by author and screenwriter Nick Hornby, the film places Witherspoon into Strayed's role. When we first meet her, she's in a rough spot, tearing a blood-soaked toenail off her foot somewhere out in the desert. Through a series of flashbacks sprinkled liberally throughout the film, it's learned that she's hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in hopes of cleansing herself of her harrowing past.

Her goal is to cross the finish line a better person — not a completely healed one, just an improved one. Fittingly, the hike is long and dangerous. But Cheryl is determined.

Whether she's cut out for it is another story.

But, as we learn along her hike, Cheryl's been through quite a bit, actually. Many of these reveals are unsettling, subversive and downright heartbreaking. Off the trail, back in her real life, she'd caused some colossal damage in the wake of a family tragedy. She binged on heroin and sex with many, many people. Eventually, there was a snapping point — one that helped our lead realize that it was time to change.

And Witherspoon satisfies in selling this part of Wild. She loses her southern belle charm and portrays Cheryl with madness, vulnerability and sincere honesty. It's the most courageous performance of her career. She wears a face of determination despite Cheryl's clear lack of mental and physical preparedness for this journey. She turns weak spots into fuel — and she churns out another Oscar-worthy performance in the process. Good thing, too: This movie is all about Witherspoon; we spend 99 percent of the film's running time with her, so it's fortunate that her performance is worth the cost of admission.

Also impressive is Laura Dern, who plays Cheryl's mother, Bobbi. Dern is something else in Wild. Her Bobbi is just like Cheryl — except that she never loses her smile or glow, even in the face of darkness. She never shows a hint of sadness, not even once. And Dern really knocks the role out of the park.

Director Vallée's got a knack for this; he's long been proven capable of producing stellar performances from his leads, especially in roles that force his casts to step outside their comfort zones. Here, he does it again.

Better yet, his method of storytelling is delicate. Wild doesn't preach. It doesn't go Hollywood on us and find a solution to end all of Cheryl's problems. It doesn't glorify her as being a hero just because she's on a hike. It just simply takes a deeply moving look at a grieving human who's persevering through a lifetime of pain.

It's an inspiring watch, beautiful and singular, sure to be an audience pleaser.

Grade: B+.

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