Directed By: Jean-Marc Vallée

Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski, and Gaby Hoffmann

This may sound completely random, but I do my best thinking in the shower.  My best ideas have come when the hot water is flowing, and there are no distractions chipping away at me.  For me, the only thing that comes close to this is taking a leisurely stroll.  When I'm out in nature getting some fresh air, great thoughts just come to me.  That's why I get Cheryl Strayed’s need to get out and smell the roses.  I just don't agree with the idea of Strayed walking a thousand miles to clear her head.  That's a bit excessive to say the least.  I’m a four or five mile kind of guy.  This certainly predisposes me to being less than excited in Jean-Marc Vallée's cinematic adaptation of her memoirs in this weekend's Wild.

It’s needless to say that Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) is a wreck of a human being.  A loving daughter, she's been consumed with the grief of her mother Barbara / Bobbi's (Laura Dern) passing.  A former heroin addict with a storied sexual history, her marriage to Paul (Thomas Sadoski) has gone down the drain.  A thoughtless and thankless friend, her friendship with Aimee (Gaby Hoffmann) has seen better days.  To clear her head, she decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trails.  She opts to trek more than a thousand miles for her own personal edification and to figure out who she is as she tries to overcome all the turmoil she’s brought into her life.  She's walking to grow up.

I fundamentally disagree with the notion of walking a thousand miles to clear one's head and get a fresh perspective on life.  I understand the need to remove all distractions and to be left to one's own thoughts and devices, but there are other, less extreme ways by which to do so.  Despite my objections to the film's premise, I must note that Dallas Buyers Club director Jean-Marc Vallée crafts an intriguing character study that thoroughly explores the mind and heart of Cheryl Strayed.  With all his typical stylistic flourishes, a surprising amount of humor, and a powerhouse performance from lead Reese Witherspoon, Vallée manages to craft something that holds our full attention for a solid two hours in Wild.  With a low-key hiking movie out in the wild that's all about taking a walk, that's about as much as anyone can ask of him.

It's abundantly clear that I disagree with plenty in Wild.  However, the part with which I disagree most is the film's ending.  Since Strayed writes a memoir about her journey through the Pacific Crest Trails, it's not a huge spoiler alert to note that she finishes this thousand mile journey.  As she concludes at the Bridge of Gods, she reflects on what lies ahead in her future, in particular another husband and kids, not necessarily on how she has grown as an individual.  The reason with which I disagree with this creative decision is that it starkly contrasts with the feminist theme that's pervasive throughout the film leading up to this point.

Vallée spends a great deal of Wild highlighting that Strayed is one of the few women out hiking and that she's defying all stereotypes and archetypes in doing so.  To conclude the film by having the character define herself through others undermines a lot of the great work he does up to this point in the movie.  Yes, Strayed matures to the point that she's a functional human being.  Yes, she finally comes to terms with her mother's untimely passing.  Yes, the notion of being a stable human with a husband and kids is not out of the question for her.  However, the whole point of her going on this hike is about turning a new leaf in life for herself.  It's about Strayed as an individual.  Introducing this future does highlight her personal growth but undercuts the individuality of it all.

Despite my mixed views on the film overall, Reese Witherspoon shines in her role as our lead Cheryl Strayed.  She gives a broad yet insular performance simultaneously marked by both fragility and strength.  At times thunderous and at others somber, Witherspoon takes us on two distinctly challenging yet interconnected journeys.  There is the physical trial of hiking a thousand miles.  That's certainly no walk in the park, but Witherspoon gives a nuanced, weary take on the character that highlights the toll this journey takes.  At the same time, she takes us on the emotional journey of coming to terms with who she is and all that has happened in her life.  Whether shouting at the top of her lungs in the middle of nowhere or falling to the ground from the weight of it all, Witherspoon always emphasizes how tormented her character truly is.

Wild is a film that will never have a problem getting viewers' attention.  It's just handicapped by a rather stale premise and questionable creative decisions.  Well-crafted and well-acted, it's certainly not a bad movie.  It's just not one of the highlights of this awards season.  Jean-Marc Vallée's latest film gets a strong 0.06% rating.  Have a couple of glasses of Pinot Grigio with this one.