In the mid 90s, Cheryl Strayed hiked over a thousand miles along the Pacific Crest Trail. Her book, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, published in 2012, described both the challenges of her external journey and the traumas that drove her to the trek: her mother’s death, her divorce, her drug use. Her internal journey from junkie to self-assured woman is perfectly suited for the brand of positivity that powers “inspirational” quotations. It’s the kind of story that gets selected for Oprah’s Book Club. It’s the kind of story that gets turned into a film starring Reese Witherspoon.
Director Jean-Marc Vallée (of Dallas Buyers Club) and screenwriter Nick Hornby (of About a Boy) are tasked with adapting her memoirs into a feature-length film: Wild. Their remit is to take Strayed’s story, capture its personal resonance and avoid its schmaltzy tendencies. By and large, they succeed. The approach is unadorned, naturalistic, personal. Cheryl’s (Witherspoon’s) trials on the trail are interspersed with intermittent flashbacks, shaping two narratives – the present and the past – simultaneously.