When you set out to make a film about a woman who is on a journey of self-discovery through a thousand miles of wilderness despite knowing little about what she is doing, you had damn well better get a couple of basics straight. Firstly we have to feel the sheer physical and mental toll the journey takes on her, we have to be amazed at how she fights such odds. And secondly we have to grow to understand and respect the force that is driving her to push herself in such a way, ideally we will become almost as emotionally invested in the journey as she is. However Wild is bereft of emotional impact, lacks any sense of true hardship and even fails to deliver any semblance of cinematic awe…
The main problem with Wild is that, unlike the director’s last film (The Dallas Buyers Club), it feels extremely unsure of itself. It wants to be a gritty tale of redemption and discovery but also something that is sanitised enough to please most viewers. The film opens with a wince inducing display of the painful physical effects that a trek such as this can have on somebody, but then after that the film never challenges her again with anything that looks or feels particularly difficult. For example we are told by the characters that trekking through snow is grueling, spirit breaking work; but when we see it happen it just doesn’t convey any sense of challenge. Similarly the film strikes me as lacking confidence with its regular use of voice-over. The whiny and only half-convincing dialogue which Witherspoon strikes up with herself seems to be perfectly timed to come in over the top of every interesting visual or potentially beautiful landscape, jolting us out of the film with observations that are rarely humorous and even more rarely informative. Frankly it’s as if the film wanted to give us a meditative look at grit and determination but wasn’t brave enough to completely follow through on that for fear of alienating people and so cleaned it up and slapped a load of pointless dialogue over the top of it all.
As to Reese Witherspoon herself… well it’s a mixed bag. On the one hand this is one of the more interesting roles for her to have taken on in recent years and she really goes for it here, but unfortunately she never truly convinces in the role. Now it would be easy to blame her faults on the stunted script and its dialogue, and that most certainly is somewhat to blame, but also Witherspoon only ever really seems to develop superficially as she travels through the movie. We are told via voice-over that she is changing, but there is a disconnect between that and what we are seeing on the screen because she doesn’t perceptively change in any way that’s either physical or spiritual, and finishes the film much like she started it. Now the film does have a weak script; one that’s full of cliches and overly sugary writing, but that doesn’t excuse Witherspoon because opposite her is Laura Dern who is given some of the most offending lines of dialogue and yet works them into being far more charming and beautiful than they have any right to be.
Wild isn’t a terrible film. It’s not even that bad as a way to use up a couple of hours. But what gets to me is that it holds so much potential and yet falls very short of delivering upon it. The script is cheesy and underdeveloped, the direction unimaginative and one would have hoped that the cinematography would have been more astounding given the subject matter of the film. But if you can lay those qualms to one side it’s nice to see Witherspoon stretching her acting muscles and it’ll be interesting to see where she goes next. Perhaps this is a stepping stone to something greater, rather than the marvel a lot of critics have claimed it to be.
What is the film’s greatest strength? Despite it not being perfect, it’s Witherspoon’s performance that comes out on top here.
Its greatest weakness? The script.
Would I see it again? I’m not in any great hurry to be honest.
Thanks for reading, please do go wild (sorry) in the comment box below!