“Wild” brings a best seller to the screen. At first, you think Cheryl Strayed’s trek through the Rockies might be tedious to too painful to watch a tenderfoot like her endure. Vallée, as he proved last year in “Dallas Buyer’s Club,” is someone who wants to go behind a story and make more than appears on the surface out of it. He has more beautiful scenery than the grit of Texas street life to deal with this time, but he shows the various kinds of people who, like Cheryl, played by Reese Witherspoon, hike the rugged mountains that rib America’s West Coast. The story grows in interest as Cheryl grows in competence. You care less about the life Cheryl leaves behind than you do about what might confront her as she walks alone for months and miles in the woods.
Luckily this isn’t a movie in which someone has to chew off his or her leg to survive, or fight a wolf in hand-to-hand combat. This is a movie about one woman gaining personal survival skills that will give her confidence to face the vicissitudes of everyday life when she returns to it.
So we look for uplift and, lo and behold, we find it. At times cloyingly, but most of the time through the natural progression of Cheryl’s walk.
“Wild” has enough variation to keep you going. Witherspoon seems to play emotion by the numbers and is a tad self-conscious in her portrayal. Better moments come when you get the feeling she isn’t thinking how to be effective and just living Cheryl’s life. Some of the people she meets, including three male campers who are always ragging each other and seem to be guys on a lark, play it more naturally. Laura Dern, as Cheryl’s late mother, has some wonderful scenes and never looks as if she’s wondering how to play a scene to make a splash,
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 91%