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Reese Witherspoon's 'Wild': The reviews are in...

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Wild
Anne Marie Fox

The sleeper indie hit Mud was considered a pivot-point for Matthew McConaughey, who was transitioning away from mimbo roles into darker and more complex territory, like his subsequent Oscar-winning performance in Dallas Buyers Club. But Mud also featured another actor at a similar career crossroads: Reese Witherspoon.

In Wild, Witherspoon teams up with McConaughey’s Dallas director Jean-Marc Vallée and writer Nick Hornby to bring Cheryl Strayed’s 1,100-mile-hike memoir to the screen. It’s a savvy career move by the revitalized actress/producer after several years of mediocre choices (Four Christmases? How Do You Know?) that failed to take advantage of her 2006 Oscar win in Walk the Line.

Not unlike Into the Wild and 127 Hours, Wild is a journey into the unknown, both in nature and the human psyche. Cheryl embarks on her solo adventure after her mother (Laura Dern) died, and her grief had sent her on a downward spiral of self-destructive behavior that cost her her marriage. She heads off into the wilderness, completely naive and unprepared for the physical hardships that await, as well as the danger that lurks with every human—mostly male—encounter. “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, in which she rips off a battered toenail,” writes EW’s Tina Jordan. “There’s been much talk recently of the 2014 Reese-aissance; Wild is all the proof you need that Witherspoon has indeed found creative rejuvenation.”

Read more from EW’s review, as well as a roundup of other notable critics, below.

Tina Jordan (Entertainment Weekly)

“Good adaptations always add another dimension to a beloved book, or make you see something you’d missed while you were reading. In this case, it’s a fuller sense of Strayed herself, thanks to the way Vallée manages to convey her howling, bottomless-seeming grief.”

Richard Roeper (Chicago Sun-Times)

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 … Witherspoon does a beautiful job of subtly showing the growth in this woman.

Mick LaSalle (San Francisco Chronicle)

Wild marks the completion of a process she began with Mud, of moving away from perky wholesomeness. 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…”

Stephen Whitty (Newark Star-Ledger)

“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.”

Dana Stevens (Slate)

“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…”

Ann Hornaday (Washington Post)

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. One problem may be that Wild is too interior to benefit from a literal reenacting.”

David Denby (New Yorker)

“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.”

A.O. Scott (New York Times) ▲

“What is most audacious about the film … 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…”

Betsy Sharkey (Los Angeles Times)

“You can sense Vallée’s evolution as a filmmaker… In Wild, he makes more room for subtlety, helped by Hornby’s gift with dialogue (Oscar-nominated for An Education). The director also makes better choices in the film’s ancillary players, unlike in Dallas Buyers Club, which rested so heavily on Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto…”

Justin Chang (Variety)

“Vallee and Hornby’s insistence on presenting their protagonist as a fully formed sexual being is one of the film’s most refreshing qualities, and the truest mark of its fidelity to its ardent and lusty source material.”

David Edelstein (New York)

“Songs from the Shangri-Las, Simon & Garfunkel, Leonard Cohen, Portishead, and many others drift in and out, sometimes taken up by Strayed as she heads into the scrubby landscape toward a mountain a long way away. The fragmentation is remarkably fluid. The pieces are all of a piece.”

Wild

Overall Metacritic rating (1-100): 74

Rotten Tomatoes: 90 percent

Rated: R

Length: 115 minutes

Starring Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadowski

Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée

Distributor: Fox