My Favorite Movie of 2014: Wild

02 Jan

I read Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild in 2013. It was easily the best book I read that year, and I was stoked to find out that it was being turned into a movie. The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) landscapes were just going to be awesome on the big screen! I eagerly anticipated the December 5 opening and talked the movie up everywhere I go on the Internet. I predicted that this was going to be my favorite movie of the year.

Then I found out that Wild was only having a limited release on December 5.

I follow Cheryl Strayed’s Facebook page, and she apologized for the limited opening. It was a distribution studio’s decision and neither Cheryl nor Reese Witherspoon’s production company had any influence on that decision. Cheryl assured us that the studio had a release plan, and Wild would certainly be showing somewhere near us soon. I followed Cheryl’s links for the first couple of weeks in December as she released updated play date lists.

At first the closest screens showing Wild were in Sacramento. I’m sorry, but I am not driving two hours to watch any movie, I don’t care how good it is. Eventually a December 19 opening showed up in Chico. Sorry, not gonna drive almost 90 minutes for any movie, either.

What I found the most irritating about this ‘release plan’ by the studio is that Redding is the heart of PCT country, and it was not showing within fifty miles! Cheryl’s hike took her through Old Station, Burney, and Castle Crags…all in a perfect arc around Redding. And it was looking more and more like the movie was not going to be here before New Year’s…if ever. I was beginning to think I was going to be writing this year-end-review about a different movie.

And then a Red Bluff date appeared. Seriously? Red Bluff gets this movie before Redding? I realize that Redding is not exactly a first-run movie mecca (none of the theaters even have THX), but the Red Bluff theater is kind of a dive. And they were getting this movie first.

Okay. I waited about a week to see if it was going to show up in Redding.


So on the last Friday in December Patsy and I went down to Red Bluff to see this movie. By now, I was beginning to have my doubts. I was concerned that my annoyance and frustration over the release were going to color my perceptions of the movie. I started to wonder if it could possibly be good enough to overcome all of the negative vibes I had picked up over the release. I just had to see it, anyway.

The house lights stayed up in the theater all through the previews. Great. Welcome to Red Bluff theater.

And then the lights went down and Wild began.

Wild was as great as I had hoped.

Wild is as close to the book as I think a movie could possibly get. It was incredible. Great cinematography. Great casting. Great pacing. Great dialogue. Everything was perfect.

Just as in any Western, the landscape is as much a character in Wild as Cheryl. The outdoors are the great, strange unknown out there. Whether it is desert scrub or Cascades forest, the wild is always present in the ‘present’ scenes. I worked on Backcountry trail crews in a lot of those types of terrain. It felt like I was getting to see an old friend.

I’ve had a couple of my guy friends try to dismiss this as a chick flick. I can certainly see why some people would think that—a woman’s adventure, produced by and starring Reese ‘Legally Blonde’ Witherspoon. Except for one thing.

Wild is most definitely not a chick flick. This is a story for anybody, man or woman, who has been slung off the tracks by major trauma in his/her life. I know this story is for anybody, because I’ve been there.

My Dad committed suicide in December 1999. For almost two years after that, I was just a shell. I narrowly avoided getting slung off the tracks and becoming a train wreck myself. Thanks to the best wife in the world (thank you, Patsy!) and a great counselor (thank you, Bert!), I was able to hold it together long enough so that I reached a point where I just kind of snapped out of it and said to myself, “What the hell am I doing?!”

Cheryl plunged farther than I did. But it’s the same story. It’s a human story. Man or woman…doesn’t make a difference. If you have never faced this kind of trauma in your life, you are either very blessed or you are lying to yourself.

Cheryl reaches the point at which she says “What the hell am I doing?!” and hikes her way back to life.

Incredible story.

I have heard some criticisms about the movie’s flashback style. Some people said it was hard for them to follow. I would say don’t focus too hard on the early flashback glimpses. You aren’t supposed to understand what they are at that point. Cheryl’s life was chaos, and the chaos is reflected by the flashes of…well…flashback. You will understand it all by the end. Be patient and enjoy.

Cheryl’s decent into drugs and sex could easily have been sensationalized in today’s film-making atmosphere. They were not in this movie. I need to alert my Christians friends that there are some short elements of this movie that will make you uncomfortable. I would not have been comfortable watching Wild with my late teen kids. However, these scenes are not done gratuitously. They are intended to show, not tell, Cheryl’s journey. I always ask myself “Was that scene really necessary to the story?” when I see explicit scenes. The answer is usually ‘no, not really’. In this case, I have to say that yes, they were.

Reese Witherspoon did a great job of portraying Cheryl’s highs and lows. This movie adds credibility to her acting chops. As if she needs any more credibility after I Walk the Line, but some people (you know who you are!) just can’t get Legally Blonde out of their heads when they think of Reese. If they cannot do that after Wild, it’s on them.

Laura Dern was perfect as Cheryl’s Mom, a keystone to the entire story.

Great movie. Easily the best I saw in 2014. Go see it.

And then in Red Bluff, the house lights came back up at the beginning of the end credits. You gotta be kiddin’ me! These guys got this movie before Redding?!


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