Movies often try to gloss over selfish behavior by their protagonists. But that’s always a mistake; minimizing the hurt a main character causes others makes him/her less likable than if the movie addressed those flaws honestly. The new film Wild presents its lead character, a recovering heroin and sex addict, with a refreshing degree of frankness.
Based on the memoir by Cheryl Strayed, Reese Witherspoon stars as a woman left in tatters after the death of her mother (Laura Dern). She decides to walk the Pacific Crest Trail to find herself. Along the way, there are flashbacks depicting her downward spiral into heroin abuse, risky sexual encounters, and the end of her marriage. Because the film shows the pain Witherspoon causes her friends and husband and the remorse she feels, it makes it a lot easier to root for her than, say, Julia Roberts’ narcissistic character in Eat, Pray, Love.
Another of the movie’s strengths is the way it makes even male viewers realize how scary it can be for a woman traveling alone in the wilderness. Every man she encounters, even those who end up becoming friends (and that’s most of them in this film), starts out as a source of menace, a potential victimizer.
Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee (The Dallas Buyers Club), Wild is a strong film likely to pick up a few Oscar nominations (Witherspoon, Dern, and screenwriter Nick Hornby are the likeliest candidates).