Not Quite “Wild” Enough

Wild2014PosterI really wanted “Wild” to be an inspiring movie about female empowerment, adventure, and finding yourself against the odds.  So I took my wife.

Cheryl Strayed’s best seller (from which this is taken) has been that kind of book for many apparently. And this movie kinda made me want to read it.

But maybe seeing this with my favorite feminist was a mistake. Julie is a knowledgeable and experienced athlete and outdoorsy type, and the first 20 minutes of “Wild” are a succession of naive ill preparedness vignettes that just don’t ring true. Disney family sit-com dopey.

She can’t even lift her pack, her boots don’t fit, she can’t operate her equipment or set up her too-big tent.  For crying out loud she seems to walk 5 miles (of a 1200 mile trek) with the highway in view and run out of food and water. It is hard to watch and take her seriously. This seems to have been aimed at a very suburban and inexperienced audience. Wilderness adventures and their respective trials and insights have been better portrayed many other films. The muttering from the next seat over was impossible to ignore.

Maybe they took some liberties with the screenplay or maybe Strayed is simply lucky to be alive today.  It is common for Hollywood to exaggerate for dramatic effect. But this almost cartoonish vision makes the drama feel canned, the nature and struggles utterly predictable, and the Inner Journey seem pre-determined and inauthentic. Scenes of “wildness” from animals along the way feel tame and fall flat. All men here are portrayed as potential predators. The joy from meeting people at stops along the Pacific Crest Trail doesn’t quite redeem her interactions and I was dreading having to meet anybody else.

The cuts back and forth between Strayed’s (great name!) previous life losing her mom and descending in substance abuse are convincing. The pacing of switching back and forth help hold the story together and give it needed tension. There are some scenes toward the end especially (and one dear one involving a little boy) that finally reach for something important and telling. This is a movie with something on its mind and so gains a grade in my mind for that alone. I still can only recommend it with reservations…

I enjoyed the book “Eat, Pray, Love” a good deal, but thought Julia Roberts couldn’t save the movie from a certain aimlessness and philosophical anticlimax. Reese Witherspoon is good here in a fairly narrow range. There are many scenes of her aiming her splendid cheekbones out across the gorgeous landscape, but I kept figuring there was a depth to the book as well that simply didn’t translate to the screen.

By the time a closing voice over explained how the coming years unfold I chuckled. It seemed dropped in from some other movie with greater gravitas, danger, and introspection. We had in no way earned the insight or supposed resolution. I was haunted the entire movie with the thought that there was indeed a great movie to be made from this storyline; but in a hundred decisions to tell the story in conventional, tried and true fashion “Wild” lost any chance to deliver it.