“We are never prepared for what we expect.”
As “Wild” ends with this James Michener quote, it encompasses what happens throughout the film. While it seems that the film was just going to follow Reese Witherspoon on her journey, there were so many layers that were unexpected.
Starting with beautiful scenery on the Pacific Crest Trail, we meet Cheryl Strayed (Witherspoon) at a rough point in her journey. The contrast between the scenery and Strayed sets up her struggles throughout the rest of the film.
After losing her mother (Laura Dern), Strayed falls into depression and loses her way. She lets her marriage crumble, gets into drugs and has sex with random men. In order to bring herself back, Strayed decides to cleanse herself on a thousand plus mile journey.
Perhaps the most entertaining part of the film is when Strayed is beginning her journey and tries to put on her backpack. Later called a “monster” by a fellow hiker, the backpack is as big as Witherspoon.
Along the way, Strayed has run-ins with many different hikers. While there are many times that she is worried about the people around her, each person has a different effect on her.
While on her journey, Strayed has flashbacks to the past about what brought her to this point. When she is happy, she remembers the good times, and when she is sad, it is the difficult times that we see.
Witherspoon shines throughout the film in a role that is different from what she normally portrays. Audiences are used to seeing a bubbly Witherspoon in comedies, but she gets to truly show her talents in this dramatic role. While Witherspoon won her Oscar a few years ago for “Walk The Line,” Strayed has more layers and goes deeper than June Carter Cash did.
We get to see brief moments from Thomas Sadoski and Gaby Hoffmann as Strayed’s ex-husband Paul and friend Aimee, respectively. The time they share on screen with Witherspoon adds more to her character and gives us the human connections that she cannot achieve on the trail.
Though, the best supporting role comes in Dern’s portrayal as Bobbi. From the moment she appears on screen, you can feel the connection between Strayed and her mother. Dern also brings an upbeat feeling that is unmatched throughout the film and is quickly becoming Hollywood’s favorite mother (along with her role in this year’s “The Fault in Our Stars”).
The film is a breath of fresh air for Witherspoon. Just as Strayed went down a different path to rejuvenate herself, Witherspoon’s different role will rejuvenate her career.