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SYNOPSIS: After years of reckless behavior, a heroin addiction and the destruction of her marriage, Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) makes a rash decision. Haunted by memories of her mother Bobbi (Laura Dern) and with no experience, she sets out to hike more than a thousand miles on the US Pacific Crest Trail on her own.

Review by Louise Keller:
While Jean-Marc Vallee's richly moving, textured and life-affirming film about regrets and choices relies on its exterior setting, the emotional ballast emanates from its internal elements as it literally and symbolically embraces the wild. It's a stunning central performance from Reece Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed, who overcomes physical hardships to confront her inner demons to find her best self: the woman her mother thought she was. Nick Hornby (About a Boy) has beautifully adapted Strayed's memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by intertwining all the elements as compactly as the way Cheryl crams her entire life into her backpack. This is an emotional powerhouse of a film: an adventure story, a tale of redemption and a poignant mother-daughter love story all rolled into one.

The film begins with a death. The death of a shoe that hurls down a ravine in the Mojave desert on Day 36 of Cheryl's 1,100 mile unforgiving trek between the borders of Mexico and Canada. The piercing scream that ensues is about more than the loss of a shoe as we later learn. Vallee involves us in every aspect of the trip from the very beginning, when Cheryl, filled with doubts, is about to set off on her life-changing journey. The backpack is so heavy she can hardly lift it; she has bought the wrong fuel so she cannot feed herself; she runs out of water; every part of her body aches as she climbs rock, crosses streams, navigates snowy landscapes and the harsh conditions of the desert. Constantly wary and frequently afraid, there are many obstacles to overcome including the men she meets along the way: all potential predators in her eyes.

Hornby's clever structuring of the screenplay allows the adventure elements to drive the exposition, the context and subtext revealed throughout by frequent fleeting flashbacks and internal thoughts that are voiced in somewhat meditative fashion. At relevant moments, we are given glimpses and insights into Cheryl's life from her impressionable childhood, her troubled marriage and dalliance with sex and heroin. Laura Dern is great as the ever-smiling, loving mother Bobbi, who wants the chance to do everything including soaking up the beauty of the sunrise and sunset. We can feel Cheryl's pain as Bobbi's terminal illness is diagnosed and plays out to its inevitable conclusion.

Vallee builds the emotional curve by interspersing key dramatic moments from the past with those of the present. Quotes from well known people, like author James Michener's 'We are never prepared for what we expect' are nicely integrated as Cheryl finds her way out of the wilderness. Like Robyn Davidson's journey through the Australian desert in the film Tracks, Wild captures the spirit beautifully.

The film haunts and resonates. Photos of the real Cheryl Strayed in the closing credits add poignancy.

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WILD (MA15+)
(US, 2014)

CAST: Reese Witherspoon, Gaby Hoffmann, Laura Dern

PRODUCER: Bruna Papandrea, Reese Witherspoon

DIRECTOR: Jean-Marc VallŽe

SCRIPT: Nick Hornby, Cheryl Strayed ("Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail")


EDITOR: Martin Pensa

MUSIC: Not credited


RUNNING TIME: 115 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 22, 2015

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