Witherspoon’s journey a tough emotional trek

By Bob Bloom

“Wild” is the story of one woman’s journey — physical and spiritual — as she attempts to cleanse and find herself while contemplating where she has been and where she wants to go.
The movie is anchored by an amazing performance by Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed who, after the death of her mother, re-evaluates her life and decides to hike the 1,000-plus mile Pacific Coast Trail.
The walk is part redemption, part penance and part challenge as Strayed pushes herselfwild 2 while reflecting on the wrong turns she has taken in her life.
With a soul as heavy as the backpack she carries, Strayed thinks back on those who influenced her — especially her mother, portrayed by Laura Dern.
“Wild” is a character study in which Strayed shares her thoughts with the moviegoer.
Witherspoon creates an aura of vulnerability around this tough and troubled young woman. She makes you root for Strayed; you hope her new path will lead to happiness and fulfillment even as you feel disapproval and disappointment in her earlier actions.
The Oscar-winning actress shows Strayed as smart, but reckless; secure but fragile; an immature adult trying to find her way out of an emotional wilderness.
Dern’s turn as Strayed mother is mesmerizing; she is the constant optimist, despite the hard knocks life has thrown her. The love she gives her children is unconditional and, at times, not returned. But she prevails.
Dern is the heart and soul of “Wild,” and her performance elevates the film.
Director Jean-Marc Vallée uses flashbacks as Strayed reflects during her trek. He also utilizes voiceovers, which at times are difficult to hear.
Even though you know the outcome from the outset, you still worry about Strayed as she continues her hike. Several of the strangers she encounters put her — and us — on edge.
Many, however, turn out to be fellow travelers who cheer and support each other along the difficult route.
“Wild” is a movie that demands patience from its audience. At times it plods as slowly as Strayed’s feet. Yet that should not curtail you from sticking with this determined young woman who desperately wants to succeed in order to prove — to herself, more than others — that she has the wherewithal to be a contributing member of society.
If accomplishing that means walking until her feet bleed and at times beating herself up inside for pain she inflicted on loved ones, so be it.
“Wild” is an inspirational story because it shows how a person can stray from what she knows is right and discover the stamina and will to find her way back to a more rewarding and affirming road.

Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at Reel Bob (reelbob.com) and The Film Yap (filmyap.com). He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at bobbloomjc@gmail.com or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Other reviews by Bloom can be found at Rottentomatoes: www.rottentomatoes.com.

3½ stars out of 4
(R), for sexual content, nudity, drug use, language