Compared to some of the other Oscar contenders that are based on memoirs and are fighting for attention in the 2015 awards season, Wild feels like a slight story with a heroine its often hard to root for. Stephen Hawking has his tragic illness, Vera Brittain has World War I to contend with and Chris Kyle had Iraqi insurgents and PTSD to combat. On the other hand, Strayed loves and loses her mother, makes some questionable life choices and then sets out on an epic walk. Even the hardships she endures seem underplayed; her addiction to heroin is glossed over and her recovery seems to take a single scene.
To his credit, perhaps director Jean-Marc Valee (Dallas Buyers Club) deliberately underplays this one woman struggle to find herself out in the Wild. The score is never rousing and the script never really throws unnecessary elements in to spice up the drama. Even Witherspoon never really gets to cut loose in her performance, making the whole film slightly subdued. There are some touching quieter moments, particularly in one scene where Strayed bonds with another female hiker and the editing is wonderfully dreamlike as thoughts invade Strayed's memory muddled mind. However, the landscapes never quite feel used to their full advantage, meaning Wild is nowhere near as awe inspiring as it should be.
Strayed's story never hits its potential emotional highs and lows. Instead of being wild, it more often withers.
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