“Oh my god, what have I done?” says an exhausted Reese Witherspoon-as-Cheryl Strayed at one point in the Fox Searchlight release Wild. Well, if early reactions to the film’s premiere at the Telluride Film Festival are to be trusted, she, director Jean-Marc Vallee, and co-star Laura Dern have made a pretty darn good film.
Two years ago, the collective pedigree of Witherspoon, Vallee, and Dern might not have counted for too much. Witherspoon hadn’t put in a solid bit role in last year Mud, and by popular opinion was still trying to equal the high point of her supporting role as June Carter Cash in Walk the Line. Vallee was a virtual unknown, and Dern, while always a treat, seems more comfortable outside the immediate spotlight. Then Vallee directed Dallas Buyers Club and Witherspoon signed up to play a lead role with the sort of emotional complexity that requires a good performance to pull off.
By most accounts, Wild is a movie that will continue to raise the profile of both. Although some early criticisms have targeted elements of the film’s structure and a penchant for being perhaps overly emotional at certain points, Witherspoon’s performance is being heralded as an achievement for both actor and director, with Oscar implications on that front already being bandied about.
Wild is based on the memoir of Cheryl Strayed, who, after drugs and promiscuity tore apart her life and marriage, hiked the entire length of the Pacific Crest Trail. Strayed had little to no hiking experience, but nonetheless made the 1000+ mile journey from the border of Mexico up to Oregon. Dern appears via flashback as Strayed’s mother, with Thomas Sadoski among the supporting cast as Strayed’s estranged husband.
We’ll get a more complete picture of Wild‘s potential when it screens at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) next weekend, and audiences will be able to judge for themselves when the film bows in theaters December 5th.