Coming so soon after John Curran’s story of a young woman negotiating western Australia in Tracks, Jean-Marc Vallée’s Wild could suffer from obvious comparisons between plot and the cinematographic use of landscape. Like Curran’s heroine, Cheryl Strayed (Witherspoon) is walking a long trail (in this case, along the Pacific Coast) to find a way back to herself after the death of her mother. Like Curran, Vallée uses landscape as a metaphor for private isolation. Whilst Curran indulged in endurance, Vallée has editorial acumen on his side. With the strong sense of pace displayed in Dallas Buyers Club, he delivers details on the film’s prologue phase (Strayed’s drug abuse and random sexuality after her mother’s death) by transforming standard flashback techniques to suggest a random vulnerability to painful memories. Alternating between lingering, scoped shots of a wilderness that forces Strayed back onto herself and abrupt, sudden-cut encounters with strangers moving in and out of her orbit, Yves Bélanger’s camera cements the feeling of an individual re-connecting unexpectedly with the collective. But while Nick Hornby’s screenplay sticks to the basics and Witherspoon cleverly opts for clear-eyed purpose, the fact remains that this story, whilst competently and originally told, is not as wild as its title suggests.
Wild | Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (USA 2014) with Reese Witherspoon. Starts January 15
Originally published in issue #134, January 2015.