Wild is a movie that is woefully overpraised. It centers on an arrogant, dismal character who will be quickly forgotten.
Wild joins Tracks as the two films of 2014 focusing on women who go on solitary journeys through the wilderness. Ironically, the underrated Tracks is far more compelling, as Wild has benefited primarily from the publicity surrounding the performance of Reese Witherspoon and the direction of Jean Marc Vallée, who brought us last year’s brilliant The Dallas Buyers Club.
I have previously reviewed Tracks, and I found it to be a fascinating film about a young woman venturing across the Australian outback simply because it seemed like the thing to do at the time. The performance of Mia Wasikowska was spot on at every turn, and it was also helped by a supporting contribution from Adam Driver, who played a National Geographic journalist.
In Ms. Wasikowska’s case, her character was bored with a previous life that didn’t interest her. Her adventure was filled with courage and heartbreak, and it was impossible not to embrace her obvious shortcomings.
It is a completely different story with Ms. Witherspoon’s character. Simply stated, she was not an easy person to like at any level. A recently divorced heroin addict who experienced the tragic death of her mother from cancer, her prior life basically centered around having sex with whoever she was getting high with and wherever that happened to occur.
She embarks on a 3-month journey on a hiking trail stretching from Mexico to Oregon. Though the scenery is frequently breathtaking, it was hard to feel compassion for a hiker who was carrying a heavy backpack filled with multiple condoms “just in case”.
Ms. Witherspoon meets a variety of people on her quest, but all of them prove to quickly disappear and are largely forgotten. Unlike Tracks where Ms. Wasikowska is accompanied by her dog, the singular moment in Wild that proves meaningful is when Witherspoon finds an apparently lost llama.
She subsequently finds the owners, who are an elderly woman and her young grandson. The little boy sings a wonderful song that touches Ms. Witherspoon’s hardened heart, resulting in her collapsing on her knees crying. I was left thinking, “Well I’ll be, there is something likeable about this wretched soul.”
Ms. Witherspoon’s trek is filled with reflections on her past, none of which are particularly interesting. The only really decent performance in the film comes from Laura Dern, who plays her likeable mother. Nonetheless, the whole movie concerns Witherspoon’s complaint about her previous life where her mother was living on the edge of poverty and neither one had a decent job. It was hard to like a woman who still complained about living in a beat up house.
It would be unfair not to acknowledge that nearly every scene involving Witherspoon on her journey concerns her personal suffering. Though left in pain from bloody bruises on her feet and cuts on her back and legs, there is rarely a moment where her facial complexion shows signs of any distress. You couldn’t help but feel that if Reese Witherspoon played an Egyptian mother at the time that God unleashed the plague to help Moses, she would have been the only Egyptian without a boil on her face.
In the end, what made this entire film so tragically unlikeable was a moment where Witherspoon delivered a closing soliloquy. Incredibly, despite the fact that she talked about the miserable and regrettable nature of her prior conduct, she emphatically stated that given the chance, she would do it all over again if it culminated in this journey.
Right then, you were left hoping that some hungry grizzly bear would come running out of the woods and maul her.