Wild *1/2

by Andres Solar

Is it worth $10? No

As with his insanely overrated Oscar winner "Dallas Buyers Club" (2013), analysis of director Jean-Marc Vallée's biopic "Wild" requires much parsing of fact vs. fiction, real-life person vs. character, and actual merits vs. popular reception. The popularity of "Dallas Buyers Club," especially at the Academy Awards, was an embarrassing exercise in rewarding the button-pushers of America's obsession with physicality. A year later, what does the average filmgoer remember about it? "Matthew McConaughey skeletonized himself!" and (perhaps) "Jared Leto looked like a REAL transvestite!"

Though in this Reese Witherspoon vehicle, Vallée again plays to a crowd which highly values all that's physical in determining character ("Wow! That scene right at the beginning where she tears her own bloody toenail off!? What a trooper."), there's thankfully little chance of another awards season reaping in "Wild."

The memoir upon which the film is based, "Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail" was published in 2012 to wide acclaim. In it, author Cheryl Strayed chronicles her 1,100-mile search for life after her divorce and the untimely death of her mother.

Witherspoon decided to buy the film rights before the book was even published. Where Vallée's inspiration to get involved came from is a mystery at best (and a quick, post-"Dallas Buyers Club" cash-in at worst). Through him, screenwriter Nick Hornby ("High Fidelity" [2000]), and arguably Witherspoon herself, what's lost is the entirety (save a couple of minutes at the very end) of Strayed's language savvy, nuance, and personal perspective.

The latter problem derives from Vallée's dumbfounding choice to eschew all but a handful of shots from Strayed's point-of-view. "Wild" thus feels little like a memoir and distances you from the main character--the one thing that a film of this nature absolutely ought not do.

Along the lines of character development--or lack thereof---Vallée exhibits his most annoying trademark: his expectation that the audience will know a character just by looking him/her over once or twice. "Who the hell is that other woman all of a sudden?" you ask yourself. "Just look at her. The quirky friend!" Vallée seems to reply.

Reese Witherspoon in Wild

Unfortunately, Hornby and Witherspoon also contribute to the failure of this work. Neither ought have allowed the screen version of Cheryl Strayed to resemble an overgrown sorority sister ever in search of the next drinking party. The oft-lauded feminist message of the memoir loses its power in this script's inspirational-poster platitudes, male-bashing, and the overall joylessness of the protagonist. Putting aside gender for the moment, Witherspoon plays a person predominantly possessed of a bad attitude.

It's a shame that the talented actress of "Election" (1999) and "Walk The Line" (2005) got mixed up with a director of exceedingly clunky movies. Transitions, flashbacks--anything of film language--feel chosen for their ability to spoon-feed, above all else. Mistaking blandness for poignancy, Vallée seems to take pride in providing cold porridge for the delight of certain starving masses. "Wild" is the most ironically titled film of the year.

Perhaps speaking to the dubious merit of the instant pet-project, the Strayed here portrayed is unwittingly, yet thoroughly, a victim--of a jerk husband, of insensitive nurses, of her mother's death and, ultimately, of life itself. Hardly the spirit of the real woman, her remarkable book, or her honest, uplifting story.

Andres Solar reviews new fare with an emphasis on art house and indie for HOH. He would love to see Burt Reynolds in another Paul Thomas Anderson movie but understands that it probably “Ain’t gonna happen.”

Cron Job Starts