Film and TV

Reviews for the Easily Distracted:

Title: Wild

Does REI Really Send You New Boots If Yours Don't Fit? Apparently. Now if I could just get Stone Brewing to FedEx me more IPA when I underestimate how much I'm actually going to drink.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Three western diamondback rattlesnakes out of five.

Brief Plot Synopsis: Troubled young woman goes for a walk.

Tagline: [from the book] "From lost to found on the Pacific Coast Trail."

Better Tagline: "Hike, pray, love."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Having hit the proverbial bottom -- mom dying prematurely of cancer, marriage on the rocks after constant infidelity -- Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) hits upon a radical form of rehabilitation. She will, with no prior training or preparation, hike the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert to Washington. And in their long-running drought, her bones should bleach nicely in the sun.

"Critical" Analysis: Historically speaking, it's a recent human luxury to be able to "go find yourself."

Watching movies from the 1970s on, examples are easy to find. From Lost in America to the (newer, crappier) Secret Life of Walter Mitty, it's been a great half century for taking an extended breather to: get your shit together/lick your wounds/take your job and shove it. Previous generations - going back to, well, pretty much the first one - have all been too preoccupied with surviving into adulthood to worry about introspection, so thank your great-grandparents for the current ability to navel gaze.

Sorry for the goofy tangent, it just always strikes me funny how the default setting for individuals trying to "get away from it all" like Cheryl Strayed or Chris McCandless is to go back to the wilderness that did such an accomplished job killing our ancestors over the last two million years.

Wild does a couple of things well. Director Jean-Marc Vallée and Witherspoon make very clear the dangers faced by novices who attempt a journey of this magnitude, especially female novices. Strayed meets mostly friendly men on her travels (with a couple of notable exceptions), but the threat -- of assault or worse -- hangs over every encounter.

The movie's also gorgeous, which is to be expected when it's set in places like Sequoia National Park and Crater Lake. It's clear the prolonged exposure to these fantastic landscapes played a big part in Strayed's healing, so with that in mind you should probably avoid the Pacific Crest, Continental Divide, or Appalachian trails for the next several months. They're gonna be like Devil's Tower after Close Encounters.

You need those positives in order to outweigh some pretty glaring defects, such as the inspirational biopic boilerplate Vallée and writer Nick Hornby were apparently relying on when they adapted Strayed's book: swelling orchestral cues, conveniently arrived upon epiphanies, untangled relationship issues. Good job everyone, grab a Snapple.

Look, I understand the REI incident actually took place (Strayed's boots were sized too small at the hike's outset and the company sent her a new pair in exchange), and maybe she really was jonesing for a lemonade made from the Finest Stuff on Earth(TM), but some scenes felt like one of those feature length infomercials you drunkenly click on at 3:30 in the morning.

So again, it's a fortunate thing indeed that Witherspoon is very good, if curiously restrained. Hers is an honest and heartfelt performance that doesn't at all feel like an all-out awards show blitzkrieg (*cough* Unbroken *cough*), and it's one of the reasons I can recommend Wild. Barely.

Wild is in theaters today. Nothing ironic about watching it from the comfort of a stadium seating chair with a 64 oz soda or anything.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar