Jean-Marc Vallée's Wild opens with a scene that sounds a bit like a vigorous sexual encounter at the remote mountain top depicted. But as the camera pulls back, the moaning, cries and panting reveal something not very pleasant: These are the sounds that a woman makes as she pries her bloody foot, broken nails and all, out of a too-small hiking boot.
It's the first dodge-then-reveal in a film full of them, a story of one woman's unlikely soul-searching and rebirth via a 1,100-mile solo backpacking trek along the length of California in the late 1990s. The film is adapted from Cheryl Strayed's best-selling, eponymous memoir, and she's played here with some brio by Reese Witherspoon, who despite the extra grime still can't convince me she's as hard and reckless as Strayed's account suggests.
Vallée, who scored big with last year's Dallas Buyers Club, intercuts the hiking journey with disjointed flashbacks to Cheryl's past, where things went wrong. The back-and-forth helps provide something to process other than Witherspoon hiking (through admittedly gorgeous scenery), though some of these historical lows are Lifetime caliber.
Strayed's journey is to "the unexplored places in my head," but falls down in clarifying the trope that one must get lost in order to get found. The film was enjoyable enough, but it felt more like a fun hike along the ridge rather than a harrowing slog back from the bottom.