Academy is Wild for Witherspoon

“…the movie is produced in such a way that the viewer feels immersed in the locations along with Cheryl”

By Sam Zoeller

December is commonly regarded among cinephiles as the best time for movies all year. As various films attempt to court Oscar voters as the nomination process begins movie theaters are seemingly bursting at the seams with high-quality and emotionally rich films. January, not so much. With half-assed sequels like Taken 3, and poorly thought out thrillers like the Jennifer Lopez vehicle, The Boy Next Door near the top of the box office, it’s fortunate that many of the high-quality films from last month are still in theaters.

Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon and directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, is one of these acclaimed films. Making more than $34.7 million in the United States alone, Wild is adapted from the memoir of the same name by Cheryl Strayed. The storyline of this particular adaptation is an account of Cheryl’s journey across the Pacific Crest Trail—a hiking trail stretching from Mexico to Canada. Haunted by a failed marriage, heroine addiction, and the death of her mother, Cheryl embarked on this ambitious hike in order to return to nature and find the answers to the questions within herself that she couldn’t seem to find in her real life.

Although the plot wasn’t as full of action as many other modern movies, Wild is extremely intriguing nonetheless. The scenery alone makes it nearly impossible to tear your eyes away. From arid deserts to snow-capped mountains to lush northwestern forests, the movie is produced in such a way that the viewer feels immersed in the locations along with Cheryl. However, the film isn’t just a prolonged video of Cheryl walking through beautiful scenery. As she progresses along the trail the movie flashes back to previous moments in her life.

Through these flashbacks the audience is able to learn more about the demons inside Cheryl’s head and gain an understanding of what it would take for her to overcome them. Cheryl also runs into people on the trail intermittently; some are friendly, some less so. Despite a few tense interactions with some threatening men on the trail it was nice to see that, even though it was clear in certain situations that Cheryl was suspicious of the men she met, for the most part they turned out to be genuinely good and helpful. By the end of the movie, the tragic character of Cheryl became extremely uplifting through her story and generally gave Wild a nature of inspiration.

This movie has received a lot of buzz lately as a result of both the two leading ladies receiving Oscar nominations. Reese Witherspoon, who has come a very long way as an actress from her days as Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, is up for another chance to win an Oscar for Best Actress. Her first Oscar win was in 2006 for Best Actress as June Carter-Cash in Walk the Line, and it will be interesting to see if she can get another. Her somber and moving performance in Wild certainly makes her deserving. Laura Dern, who plays Cheryl’s mother in the various flashbacks, has been nominated for Best Supporting Actress. Although the film itself is not up for any nominations, it brought out incredible performances on behalf of the actresses. This is unsurprising since the director, Jean-Marc Vallée, also directed the wonderfully successful Dallas Buyers Club, which won six Academy Awards in 2014. However, it is surprising to some critics as well as fans that Wild was not nominated for Best Picture. A personal story of growth and adventure, Wild is an important movie to see even if it wasn’t dubbed so by the Academy.