Sunday, December 28, 2014

Reese without Her Spoon

Reese Witherspoon embarks on an outdoor, self-administered rehab, getting her life together after years of reckless behaviour in possibly 2014's most inappropriately titled film, Wild. A good performance from Witherspoon and decent direction from Jean-Marc Vallee make for an enjoyable film experience but unfortunately it's a lot shallower than it thinks it is, an abrasive quality that prevents this movie from truly succeeding.

Based on the autobiographical account of Cheryl Strayed--who invented her last name as a reflection of the fact that her frequent cheating led to divorcing her vaguely patient and honourable husband--Wild follows a young woman as she hikes the Pacific Crest Trail which extends from the U.S./Mexican border to the U.S./Canadian border. Most of the story concerns mildly interesting incidents in the inexperienced hiker's long journey; guys who almost rape her, boots that don't fit her, hastily sketched, two dimensional characters like the only female hiker Cheryl encounters, a weathered woman who appears briefly to approve of Cheryl's efforts near the end. Throughout the film, flashbacks to Cheryl's life as a heroin addict and the daughter of a woman attending the same school as her (Laura Dern) attempt to show how Cheryl's life was a mess. The idea is that without the anchor of her saintly mother in her life, Cheryl disappears into a cycle of self hatred and indulgence.

Although we see Witherspoon waking up naked in a shitty apartment and sitting on a street corner muttering "more, more" before having her money stolen, one doesn't really have a solid impression of her existence as a heroin addict and it never feels like a real part of her character. Similarly, shots of her sleeping with a bunch of men are never tied to her relationship with her indistinct husband. We're not invited to see what factored into her decision to cheat on him or any sense of her feelings in the aftermath of the encounters.

There was one scene I liked where Cheryl talks to a psychiatrist in a school classroom. She points to a poster of the galaxy with a circled dot and the caption "You Are Here" and says she never liked posters like that being in classrooms because it made the students feel insignificant. To which the psychiatrist says, "Do you feel significant?"

The answer is yes, it's something that's backed up by a series of platitudes the movie uses particularly near the end, many of them delivered by Cheryl's superheroine mother, things like "be your best self" that seem like they would belong on a poster of a kitten struggling up a tree.

There's some lovely scenery, particularly of north-western foothills which, combined with the insubstantial navel gazing, oddly made me think of the first Rambo movie.

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