Thursday, October 9, 2014

TIFF 2014 Review: WILD (2014, USA)

dir. Jean-Marc Vallee

Jean-Marc Vallee’s follow-up to the impressively acted but quite shapeless and clumsily paced HIV/AIDS-themed drama Dallas Buyers Club is also impressively acted, a bit languidly paced, and raggedly structured—which, in this case, though, seems rather a corollary of the film’s having an introspective narrator than a shortcoming. Wild finds a lone young woman, burdened with bulky backpacks and a specter of her heroin-abusing former self, on a path toward personal discovery and rebirth styled as the Pacific Crest Trail. That woman is Cheryl Strayed, a real-life champion in the self-help department played believably by Reese Witherspoon back in top form. Her backbreaking long-distance treks involve a tyro hiker’s usual apprehensions, an increasingly daunting array of hardships, and trial and error learning, while being punctuated by chance encounters with mostly genial locals and fellow PCT participants. But what ultimately defines the narrative’s contours are those numerous flashbacks, either prompted at random or triggered by some clues to the past, of Cheryl’s relationship with her nearly sainted mother, Bobbi. While the Canadian filmmaker paints vignettes of Cheryl’s physical journey as mundane, her recollections tinted by grief and longing for Bobbi render the latter surreal and almost abstract. Laura Dern packs an emotional punch as Cheryl’s mother, even though the character isn’t a fully coherent whole.

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