WILD, starring Reese Witherspoon


Wild is the true story of Cheryl Strayed (played by Ms. Witherspoon), a troubled young woman who chooses to hike the Pacific Crest Trail’s thousand miles in an attempt to exorcise emotional chaos, put some distance (literally and figuratively) between herself and a significant other or two, and generally clean up her body with a hundred-day knockout punch.

Most people don’t get up in the morning and say, “Wow, I’ve screwed up my life and my life has screwed up me, so I’ll walk from the Mexican border to Washington state,” but then not everyone gets matching tattoos with her husband right before filing for divorce. The divorce papers include the change of name from whatever-it-was-before to “Strayed,” and that’s not because that was her maiden name.

The scenery is gorgeous. Ms. Witherspoon does a great job as Cheryl, hiking alone without any previous hiking experience a trail which is usually undertaken only by experts. Her inexperience gives us a few laughs, particularly with the backpack filled with everything except a refrigerator and set of encyclopedias.

I’m not sure the movie depicts the walk with any accuracy. I’m not a hiker, but there doesn’t seem to be a moment when Cheryl-the-novice is unable to move for pain. Nor does she weep her head off with the complete overwhelmingness of what she’s set out to do. She simply giggles and says, “Yeah, I think about quitting all the time.” Different personalities, different responses to seeming impossibility, I guess. Frankly, her approach is more likely of success than mine. I’d have (maybe) gotten to Kennedy Meadows and called an ambulance to drive me anywhere right now as fast as you can.

There’s a fantastic goldmine of an advertisement for REI, the camping store. No one who sees this movie will ever get his hiking boots anywhere else. I know I’m going to buy mine there.

Because this movie does make you want to go hiking. Or at least think about hiking. Or at least open a window and let in the fresh air while wearing your new REI boots-with-one-year-warranty. And all of that is good.

Also good are the parts of the movie that deal with Ms. Strayed’s great personal loss. The flashbacks are emotionally wrenching. These are the best part of the movie and the core of it. The long walk is a hoped-for catharsis for her heartbreaking loss.

Do not take your children. Drug use. Sexual situations. Language. I would have liked it better with a different set of problems to be overcome, but it’s a true story, and if the real Cheryl Strayed was a heroin addict who slept with anyone who asked, I guess that’s what the movie’s going to show.