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Movie Night – 'Wild' depicts life of disaster and courage (Sept. 2, 2015 issue)

In June of 1995 Cheryl Strayed decided to take a walk. A long walk. Strayed set out to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, a trek that tallies 2,650 miles in total. It begins in California at the border with Mexico and ends in the state of Washington at the border with Canada. Strayed wrote a bestselling book about her experiences and “Wild” is her story made into a film. It’s available on DVD and Blu-Ray.
Cheryl (Reese Witherspoon) and her mom, Bobbi (Laura Dern), were best friends. Cheryl’s dad was abusive and Bobbi took Cheryl and her brother out of that home while they were still young. Neither Bobbi nor her kids ever looked back. Growing up Cheryl and her family didn’t have much, but they had each other.
As Cheryl got older, like most teenagers, she became difficult. But, no matter how cynical Cheryl became, no matter how much she complained, Bobbi always had a smile on her face. She was always positive and upbeat, if only just to counter the negative energy coming from Cheryl.
Then Bobbi was diagnosed with cancer. As is all too often the case, Cheryl didn’t realize how much she loved her mom, how much she relied on her for support and guidance, how much she needed her, until Bobbi was gone. Bobbi’s death sent Cheryl into a downward spiral, destroying her life in the process.
Cheryl began abusing drugs, heroin her poison of choice. She began having casual sex with basically anyone who showed her any attention, despite the fact that she was married. Soon after her divorce Cheryl decided that she needed to get away, to refocus and decide what she wanted to be, who she wanted to be.
She decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail alone. Completing the 2,650-mile trek would take over three months. Three months on her own, in the desert and mountains and forest with everything she owns on her back.
The story of the movie is told not in chronological order, but is revealed through an extensive series of flashbacks as Cheryl navigates the trail. It’s not a novel way to tell a story, but some of the flashbacks are quickly flashed on and off the screen and seem to come out of nowhere to the point that they are, at times, distracting.
The role of Cheryl Strayed allowed Reese Witherspoon to show a side of her that has never before been seen, both literally and figuratively. It’s likely Witherspoon’s first role where she didn’t play a likable character. The sex scenes in the movie pop up without any warning and a few are fairly graphic.
It’s not what we’re used to seeing from the wholesome girl next door. Despite her new role, Witherspoon is great as Strayed. As the movie progresses you can see the transformation she makes as her character completes a personal journey to become a better person.
Overall, it’s a good story and a good movie. Cheryl realized that something needed to change or she was headed for disaster. The hike gave her plenty of time to deal with her past and find some way to overcome everything that had happened to her and everything that she had allowed her life to become. It took great courage (and a good deal of stupidity) to make that journey alone, but to Strayed it was worth everything she was forced to endure.
Grade: B+
Rated R for sexual content, nudity, drug use, and language.