hiking

A Tame Kind of 'Wild'

Screenshot from the trailer for 'Wild.'
Screenshot from the trailer for 'Wild.'

Director Jean-Marc Vallee (The Dallas Buyer’s Club) and writer Nick Hornby (author of High Fidelity and About a Boy) attempt valiantly to solve this problem, and achieve some moments of real beauty in the process. However, they never quite find a way to effectively connect Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) in her lowest moments, which include heroin addiction, the termination of a pregnancy, and divorce, with the woman we’re watching hike from Mexico to Canada — a woman who, while troubled, seems to have it considerably more together.

It also doesn’t help that the conversations Strayed does have on the trail tend towards the kind of dialogue that feels less like natural conversation and more like a talk between archetypes spouting bumper-sticker wisdom. The conversations that come up, about choices, regrets, and mistakes made, are all valuable. But the way they happen feels sanitized.

Ultimately, Wild does manage to present some solid thoughts on the process of grief and redemption. Strayed’s observation that everything in her life, both good and bad, led her to becoming a stronger, better person is important. Just as important is the film’s point that our relationships with others are vital to our survival and growth.

There’s no doubt that Strayed’s own experience was powerful and tough. But in its translation to film, particularly a film with a plot and performance tailor-made for awards season, Wild is a movie that’s afraid to upset people. It acknowledges the hard stuff, but barely hints at the true emotional complexities of its story and of its main character. Where it ought to challenge, it merely suggests. And while that’s okay, it’s disappointing that it isn’t more.

Hiking Through Heartbreak

WRITER Cheryl Strayed’s unusually apt last name was self-selected in the wake of her mother’s premature death from cancer and after her first marriage collapsed under the weight of grief-stricken infidelity in 1995. Anguished and reeling from loss, then-26-year-old Strayed, a novice hiker, picked a new name for herself and took off on a 1,100-mile solo hike up the Pacific Crest Trail. In three months, she hiked from the Mojave Desert in California to the Washington state line in an attempt to heal. In her new memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (Knopf), she recounts her bold trek into the wilderness and her restorative journey home.

Strayed is also the wildly popular advice columnist for the online culture magazine The Rumpus (therumpus.net), writing under the pen name Sugar until she revealed her true identity in February. A collection of her “Dear Sugar” columns, Tiny Beautiful Things (Vintage), will be published in July.

Brittany Shoot: Your stint as Sugar on The Rumpus has been wildly successful. How do you feel about the fact that many readers take so seriously advice from ordinary people? How does it feel to be treated as a life experiences expert?

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