WILD (2014, Jean-Marc Vallée)
Described accurately by people as “the anti-EAT, PRAY, LOVE” Vallée’s follow-up to DALLAS BUYER’S CLUB is a similarly soft treatment of a hard true-life story, but one with a lot of likable qualities. The first of those is definitely the “anti” part of the above quote: this does not go down the self-serving, obnoxious, white-privilege bullshit path of Ryan Murphy’s disaster; instead its lead character is smart without being pretentious, nice without being cloying, and feminist without being dogmatic. Any story about someone walking a thousand miles alone to find herself risks being insular and navel-gazing, but I give Vallée credit for finding something universal here. Like the moments where you’re walking and start humming the music in your head, and that song triggers a memory; or when you’re thinking to yourself and then start to talk out loud because nobody’s listening. Witherspoon is effective as Cheryl Strayed but I’m not sure she’s revelatory. She manages to perform in a way that’s believable but not as emotionally involving as perhaps the material requires. Or else it’s the structure of the film, which often veers into flashbacks that suffer from superficiality — Laura Dern is playing a cliché and too often her scenes inspire more eye-rolling than eye-watering. And for every beautiful scene like the little boy who sings “Red River Valley,” there’s another that cracks under the weight of its Oscar ambitions.