Review Roundup: Reese Witherspoon Stars in WILD

Director Jean-Marc Vallée's adaptation of Cheryl Strayed's New York Times #1 best-seller WILD, starring Reese Witherspoon, hits theaters today, December 5th.

WILD follows Strayed (Witherspoon) who, with the dissolution of her marriage and the death of her mother, has lost all hope. After years of reckless, destructive behavior, she makes a rash decision.

With absolutely no experience, driven only by sheer determination, Cheryl hikes more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, alone. Wild powerfully captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddens, strengthens, and ultimately heals her.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

A.O. Scott, The New York Times: Cheryl, played by Reese Witherspoon with grit, wit and unblinking honesty...What is most audacious about the film, directed by Jean-Marc Vallée ("Dallas Buyers Club") from a screenplay by Nick Hornby...is how closely it follows and how fully it respects Ms. Strayed's free-associative, memory-driven narrative. In its thrilling disregard for the conventions of commercial cinematic storytelling, "Wild" reveals what some of us have long suspected: that plot is the enemy of truth, and that images and emotions can carry meaning more effectively than neatly packaged scenes or carefully scripted character arcs..."Wild" has its shortcomings...But you wouldn't want a movie that celebrates imperfection, improvisation and the importance of mistakes to be slick or seamless.

Justin Chang, Variety: Cheryl Strayed's heart-rending 2012 account of her 1,100-mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail presented no shortage of obstacles en route to the bigscreen, not least in the way it used the great outdoors as the backdrop for a resolutely interior journey. But director Jean-Marc Vallee, screenwriter Nick Hornby and star-producer Reese Witherspoon have met the challenge head-on with imperfect but rewarding results in "Wild," a ruggedly beautiful and emotionally resonant saga of perseverance and self-discovery that represents a fine addition to the recent bumper crop of bigscreen survival stories. Resting squarely on Witherspoon's sturdy shoulders (along with the back-crushing backpack she carts around throughout), the Fox Searchlight release should be admiringly received by critics and arthouse audiences come Dec. 5.

Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times: "Wild" opens high atop the Pacific Crest Trail, where at first all the eye can see is the sweeping beauty of a rugged land, unmarred and untamed. The scene is breathtaking, serene, until it is broken by pain and pierced by a scream. The pain comes from Cheryl Strayed, portrayed by a wonderfully worn down and unwashed Reese Witherspoon, hiking too many miles in boots that don't fit. The scream, full of defiance and frustration, is forged by a life that doesn't fit either. It is in moments like these that director Jean-Marc Vallée's compassion for the human condition, Nick Hornby's skin-scraping and soul-baring adaptation of Strayed's memoir, and Witherspoon's pure emotional nakedness merge, piercing, like that scream. Though there are occasional stumbles along the 1,100-mile hike, the peaks in "Wild" make the journey more than worth it.

Richard Roeper, Chicago Sun-Times: It takes a while to warm up to Cheryl Strayed, the heroine of "Wild"...But the more time we spend with Cheryl, the more we learn about her back story, and the more we feel the change in this young woman's heart and spirit as she refuses to give up...Thanks to the rich source material...a nomination-worthy adaptation from the razor-sharp Nick Hornby...and Witherspoon's most complete performance since her Oscar-winning work in "Walk the Line" nearly a decade ago, "Wild" joins "127 Hours" and "All Is Lost" on the top rung of individualist-survival movies...As for Witherspoon, there's not a shred of her America's Sweetheart persona in this work. She strips naked, literally and otherwise, in a raw, brave performance.

David Denby, New Yorker: "Wild" is about the renewal of self, but it's a film made without sanctimony or piety. The English screenwriter and novelist Nick Hornby ("About a Boy") adapted the book for the movie, which was directed by the French-Canadian Jean-Marc Vallée ("Dallas Buyers Club"). Both men know that narrative art lives in small details woven through large emotions...Here [Reese Witherspoon is] a good actress playing an intelligent, well-read, ambitious, but screwed-up woman...The scenery, of course, could stop the heart of a mountain goat, and "Wild" has an admirable heroine, but the movie itself often feels literal-minded rather than poetic, busy rather than sublime, eager to communicate rather than easily splendid.

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: In "Wild," the stirring adaptation of Cheryl Strayed's 2012 memoir, Reese Witherspoon delivers an admirably restrained, un-glamorous performance as the author...screenwriter Nick Hornby and director Jean-Marc Vallée ("Dallas Buyers Club") have brought their virtuosity to bear on a narrative that unfolds episodically -- literally one step at a time -- but also poetically. With an evocatively layered sound design and those shardlike flashbacks, Vallée especially succeeds in creating a convincing inner life for a woman who remains something of a cipher even at the film's most confessional moments..."Wild" is so well made, so beyond reproach narratively and aesthetically, that it's difficult to say why it makes so little impact. While most viewers will be dutifully affected by Strayed's journey, many may find themselves curiously unmoved...as bravely as Witherspoon dresses down to play the glum, emotionally distant Strayed, there's not a moment in the film when we can forget that we're watching Reese Witherspoon.

Dana Stevens, Slate: Vallée's choice to open on that gnarly toenail scene tells us a few important things about the movie to come. It will be tough to watch at times, but not necessarily in the could-you-survive-this? mode of Into the Wild, 127 Hours, or other films...The story Wild cares about, and tells with admirable honesty and cinematic grace, has less to do with the out-of-doors than with the inside-of-head. It's a journey through a dark night of the soul that just happens to take place in a breathtaking outward location...Yves Bélanger's crystalline cinematography provides a stunning natural backdrop for this free-flowing interior monologue that -- at least until an overly explicit stretch of voiceover near the end -- rarely resorts to self-empowerment clichés...Cheryl's a female protagonist of a kind we rarely see in the movies, someone who can be not just unlikable but at times unknowable, even to herself. This woman is a piece of work: disorganized, sailor-mouthed, given to self-destructive promiscuity and addictive behavior, but also curious, sardonic, and scary smart.

David Edelstein, Vulture: Working from a deft script by the novelist Nick Hornby, director Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club) weaves Strayed's wrenching memories through shots of her trudging ... and trudging ... and trudging ... from Southern California to the Bridge of the Gods, which separates Oregon from Washington State...The soundtrack is extraordinary...The fragmentation is remarkably fluid. The pieces are all of a piece. Witherspoon doesn't look as hardy as the real Strayed, who shows up in a series of photos beside the credits. But her small stature adds to the movie's charm. Witherspoon's edginess makes her easy -- and fun -- to read; her face registers every bump on the path...In Wild, though, her scrunchy face looks like the upshot of braininess, restlessness, having a motor that runs too fast. It captures the feeling of Strayed's prose, which can seem a mite self-centered but is always processing...Cuts, bruises, and horrible hygiene have never looked so glamorous.

Tina Jordan, Entertainment Weekly: Director Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club) has made a movie that adheres to Strayed's tale in almost every way. That's not always a good thing, by the way -- faithfulness often translates into leadenness. Vallée has done the opposite, delivering a film that is both graceful and gutting...Witherspoon ditches her sunny persona before she laces up her first mountain boot and plays Cheryl with real grit, drawing you in from the opening scene...Wild is all the proof you need that Witherspoon has indeed found creative rejuvenation...Wild isn't a perfect film. The ending is abrupt: When the hike's over, so is the movie. And some of the interior monologues run on a bit. But those are small quibbles. Vallée has taken a contemplative book where, frankly, very little happens and transformed it into a gut-punching drama. A-

Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle: "Wild" has so many things in its favor that it's tempting to leave out the fact that it's a movie about a hike that sometimes feels like being on a hike, a long one, without many changes of scenery. But the movie's achievement is that it overcomes this. The filmmakers take a potentially plodding, numbing situation and, scene by scene, struggle and succeed in keeping the action alive, one step at a time. Reese Witherspoon owns this film as few actors ever do...Like the best image makeovers, this one works because it feels authentic. This pensive, reflective, complicated Witherspoon feels more real than the one she left behind -- and more in keeping with how she started, in hard-hitting independent movies 20 years ago.

Stephen Whitty, Newark Star-Ledger: It's a fine film, made with poetry and intelligence. For that, some credit has to go to Jean-Marc Vallee and screenwriter Nick Hornby...And to their credit, neither man gets in the way of this woman's story. Because it is a woman's story and -- besides its original author -- it has a couple of surprising women involved. The first is Laura Dern, here cast in flashbacks as Cheryl's mom...Here, she finds real sweetness in a single mother trying to do her best...The second is Reese Witherspoon, who owns this movie in a way she hasn't since "Walk the Line"...the real bravery comes from her playing a woman who makes mistakes (and instead of dwelling on them, learns from them). The real nakedness is when she shows us Cheryl's selfishness, impatience, self-destructiveness -- all those things that don't necessarily make up a Hollywood heroine but do make up a real person.

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