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Witherspoon's walk on the Wild side

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“You can quit any time,” is the mantra Cheryl (Reese Witherspoon) delivers over and over to herself, and you wonder about her rash decision to walk solo along the Pacific Crest Trail stretching nearly 2000km from California to Canada.

She has given herself three months – but already she is bruised, tired and disheartened. And it’s only day one.

This hike is her bid to clamber from the pits, where she plummeted after the death of her loving but idealistic mother (Laura Dern). Cheryl’s surname is Strayed. And stray she did. Into the path of heroin addiction, senseless sex and meaningless drifting.

In this movie adaptation of her memoir about the journey to “find her best self”, you very quickly learn that Strayed may be naïve when it comes to hiking, but this gal is street-smart. While there ain’t many streets where she’s travelling on this journey, her suburban savvy comes in very handy.

Witherspoon gives a top performance as Strayed. She naturally dominates the screen as she walks the trail and is equally impressive in the flashbacks that gradually reveal the relationships between Strayed and her mother, father, brother, and ex-husband. Laura Dern is equally impressive.

This movie is no tale of dramatic derring-do. There is a monster – Strayed’s backpack – but the only casualty over a cliff is her hiking boot.

The key moments in Wild are not over-the-top Hollywood-style nail-biters – thankfully. Instead, they are believable, because what woman, travelling alone, hasn’t found herself in a vulnerable position? The Deliverance moment when Strayed shares the contents of a murky little puddle of water with a couple of hunters is an example of a script and acting that is nicely understated.

Nor is the scenery glamorised. This is not a movie that needs to be saved by sweeping plains or snow-peaked mountains; they’re there, but you would never say you watched the movie for the stunning scenery. Which is another understated, welcome touch.

All in all, Wild shows that less can definitely mean more.

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