Cheryl Strayed’s (Reese Witherspoon) life went into a tailspin right after the untimely death of her mother (Laura Dern). The grief-stricken 22-year-old subsequently became emotionally estranged from the people closest to her, including her husband, Paul (Thomas Sadowski), and her brother, Leif (Keene McRae).
And by the time she had finally bottomed out several years later, she was all alone and addicted to heroin. Yet she somehow summoned up the strength to set out on a transformational, solo trek along the Pacific Coast Trail that would take her from the Mojave Desert in California all the way north to the border of Washington and Oregon.
The perilous, 1,100-mile journey would prove to be Cheryl’s salvation, as it afforded her an opportunity to purge her demons while conquering the elements. That magical metamorphosis would also become the subject of her best-selling memoir, “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Trail,” an Oprah Book Club selection.
The story has now been adapted to the screen by Academy Award-nominated scriptwriter Nick Hornby (for An Education) as a touching tale of female empowerment featuring Reese Witherspoon as the intrepid heroine. The picture was directed by another Oscar nominee, Jean-Marc Vallee, whose Dallas Buyers Club netted Oscars for both Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto.
Unfortunately, this flashback flick fails to generate the same sort of sobering gravitas which made Dallas so effectively gripping. Consequently, it unfolds less like the similarly-themed “Into the Wild” (2007), a riveting survival saga, than “Eat Pray Love” (2010), another relatively-lighthearted romp about a woman finding herself.
“Wild” is an uneven endeavor which undercuts its own cause by including intermittent interludes of comic relief, such as when Cheryl’s overstuffed backpack repeatedly causes her to topple over. Hence, rather than ratcheting up the tension of a harrowing ordeal, the film merely recounts the assorted highs and lows of a poorly-planned camping trip run amuck.
Reese Witherspoon nevertheless delivers a decent enough performance to singlehandedly elevate an otherwise mediocre adventure to an entertaining one worth recommending.