Kurt Loder Movie Reviews


Reese Witherspoon on a long walk into a new life.


Reese Witherspoon

Wild is a feminist quest story, based on Cheryl Strayed's bestselling 2012 memoir, about a woman who flees the wreckage of her life to find her true self on an 1100-mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail. Reese Witherspoon acquired film rights to the book while it was in manuscript form, and she plays Strayed—grimy and bruised and sometimes bloody on her trek through the Mojave Desert and up into the frigid crags of the Pacific Northwest—without a shred of protective movie-star vanity. The story is rooted in a female sensibility, and it's intent on uplift, but it has a broader resonance. The men who pass through the narrative are generally well-intentioned, but some are crudely threatening, and the picture is most forceful in conveying the extent to which women's lives are shaped by the potential menace of every male stranger.

The movie begins in 1995, with Cheryl already underway, trudging through the Mojave flatlands with a backpack so heavy she can barely stand upright beneath its weight. She knows nothing about long-distance hiking, and soon begins learning difficult lessons. The boots she's bought are too tight, and are tearing up her feet. The fuel she has brought along for her camping stove is the wrong kind, which limits her diet to cold, uncooked oatmeal. Hiking enthusiasts will relate to this sort of thing, I suppose. You know who you are.

More gripping is Cheryl's backstory, which screenwriter Nick Hornby sketches in with constant flashbacks: the abusive alcoholic father, the indomitable mom (Laura Dern in a performance of glowing delicacy), the teen marriage that collapses amid Cheryl's squalid infidelities and dead-end heroin addiction. "I don't know when I became such a piece of shit," she tells a hometown friend. Then, I'm afraid, she spots a book in a store about the Pacific Crest Trail, buys it, and announces, "I'm gonna walk myself back to the woman my mother saw once."

No doubt this self-realization wake-up call is true to the experience of the real Cheryl Strayed, but in a movie it feels like inspirational overreach. Cheryl's arduous journey is presented as an exercise in character-building. She could call it off at any time (although not to throw in her lot with some gypsy Deadheads she encounters, one can't help hoping). But she's determined to stay the course, to hike her way into a new life. As a fellow female seeker she meets puts it, "I just need to find something in myself."

Well, okay. But the real value of Cheryl's trip seems to be the opportunity it offers for solitary reflection—for looking back at the mistakes she's made and determining not to keep making them. However many references we get to Erica Jong and Adrienne Rich, this is not a process that's peculiar to women—although some of the comments Cheryl endures along the way certainly are. ("You sound like a feminist," one man says. "I love feminists!").

Reese Witherspoon is in just about every scene of this film, often alone, and her unebbing commitment lifts the story above its therapeutic underpinnings. The philosophical observation with which the movie concludes is entirely familiar, and the projection of Cheryl's unseen future is simply tacked on at the end. But the director, Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club), captures some gorgeous high-country scenery, and draws subtle performances from the supporting actors (especially Thomas Sadoski as Cheryl's sorrowful ex-husband). Witherspoon does all the rest.

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  1. um…hell no

    1. Wild is a feminist quest story

      And . . . I’m out.

  2. women’s lives are shaped by the potential menace of every male stranger

    Sooo a little rape culture agitprop. I’ll pass.

    1. A cameo by STEVE SMITH!

    2. There wasn’t much of that in the book, IIRC. Maybe they play it up in the movie. I still don’t plan on seeing it, though.

    3. As a member of the tits tribe, I would merely edit that to say that women’s daily doings are affected to a certain extent by the potential menace etc. It’s simply another thing to be aware of when you’re hiking all alone without the proper equipment on a wild nature trail or you’re a character in a Callie Khouri script.

  3. Hiking enthusiasts will relate to this sort of thing, I suppose. You know who you are.

    Um, no. I learned what I was doing first.

    I read the book. Parts of it were interesting, but in the end I just couldn’t find the author to be a sympathetic character. I can appreciate that she managed to meet her goal, but the whole time, I was expecting her to have some sort of catharsis, or to show some signs of inner growth. Instead, the story just ends. Maybe that is just real life, but that basically makes the story a diary of someone that doesn’t seem particularly likeable to me.

    1. LynchPin, thanks for the good, thoughtful review of the book. Based on your assessment, I’ll pass.

      KL: “No doubt this self-realization wake-up call is true to the experience of the real Cheryl Strayed…”

      lol. sure. no doubt. Good movie review anyway.

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    1. Will I be able to make. $15,000/month of I cannot type? What if I hike up the western coast of the United States? Can I make $15,000/month while hiking through the desert and/or mountains? Please say yes.

      1. Can I make $15,000/month while hiking through the desert and/or mountains?

        You just described my actual dream job.

        1. It’s a great when paying to do it; must be paradise doing it for pay.

  5. Wild is a feminist quest story

    I stopped here. Though, I see that Reese Witherspoon is still hot. So that’s something.

    1. Pathetically hilarious aside from the AV Club review of this film:

      Whatever regrets Strayed may have about her behavior during that period of her life, Wild still falls into the trap of demonizing sexual activity that would seem unremarkable if the character were male.


      Never mind that Strayed was a serial adulterer and drug abuser, who even told Reese Witherspoon directly that she was a “major slut” during those days. The SWPL-y moralizing must be sustained!

      1. I used to read that site because the reviews were decent. It was left-leaning but tolerable, but I deleted it from my bookmarks when the SWJs took over. And they seem to be taking over every other area of pop culture too.

    2. No degree of hotness could ever justify enduring a feminist quest story.

  6. “Wild is a feminist quest story…”

    well that sounds….zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz mmm, porn zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

  7. The last feminist quest story i enjoyed was “La Femme Nikita”

    1. *facepalm*

    2. Good movie,I enjoyed the USA show with Pita Wilson also.

      1. i liked “kill bill”

  8. Here, once again, we have a movie I can understand MAKING. I totally get the pull of the performance, the desire to get inside this woman and act. What I don’t get is the desire to WATCH this kind of thing. Oh, when it’s a truly great performance the film can be wonderful, though they are usual in the category of “Well, I’m very glad I’ve seen that, but I never want to see it again”. But if the performance is merely good, or the script falls into cliche (which this sounds like it does) then I simply don’t want to spend any appreciable amount of time with it.

    And yet, I will happily expend hour upon hour of my life watching cheese ball kung fu films. Go figure.

    1. It’ll appeal to “Eat Pray Love” liberal white women, whose lives are nothing if not defined by superficial banalities, and most importantly, appeal to Oscar voters.

      Reese Witherspoon casting herself is a nod to the reality that some boyfriends/husbands might be convinced to go watch it just to ogle her. But it’s not going to have very wide appeal after the first week or two.

    2. “Well, I’m very glad I’ve seen that, but I never want to see it again”

      This is what I think of ‘Interstellar’.

  9. It was decent of Loder to let me know not to waste my time by reading past the first six words of the first sentence of the first paragraph.

  10. First world problems – Barf on a stick.

    Only in the first world would you find complete idiot hiking in the wilderness alone, unprepared and unarmed, who then experiences a couple a couple of uncomfortable ‘encounters’ and then writes a book about it.

    I can get uncomfortable encounters just from walking from A to B in my city. No wilderness and isolation required and it’s not restricted to women in the slightest.

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  12. Reese Witherspoon? What…… Lena Dunham wasn’t available?

  13. When a guy goes hiking alone it’s called ‘Tuesday’. When a woman does it she writes a book about “My harrowing tale walking through the well groomed trails of ‘wilderness Disneyland USA’ with nothing but a cellphone, GPS, high-tech tent, sleeping bag, coat and a week’s supply of food!”

    See you next Tuesday.

    1. Hey, she was a heroin addict, and wanted to stop. If it worked for her, GREAT! But I don’t want to read about it. Or watch it.

  14. An American film that requires one drink several cups of coffee beforehand? Actually, that applies to most blockbuster films as well as the unpretentiously cerebral ones.

    1. What!? Mr. Sukiyaki Takagi. What have you saki-drinkers produced lately that I should flock myself to the cinema house to behold?

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