It was obvious that Jean-Marc Vallée’s Dallas Buyer Club was a film that shook Hollywood through the intense portrayal of Matthew McConaughey, a pivotal film that peaked during his so called “McConaissance”, earning him a sense of validation within a system that for so long have restricted him; I guess it took a filmmaker like Vallée to reach such a position. Though Vallée was critical to McConaughey’s success, to regard the film as truly his own, especially through the eyes of the public, would be difficult, as it has since the beginning of the awards circuit have been defined by the cloud of excellent performances that it brings; it was a film that I never felt was crafted with the hands of an auteur, a filmmaker seemingly playing along the rules of the traditional values of mainstream cinema, one that thankfully never became consumed by it, but instead stood above its peers with pride through its remarkable excellence.
Now with such success, Vallée seemed to have opened himself to more opportunities, gaining the confidence and admiration of Reese Witherspoon and her new found company, Pacific Standard; a year for the company that would lead them to wonderful films for 2014, Wild and Gone Girl. Witherspoon must have seen something in this filmmaker, somehow being able to completely put her faith into this untapped Canadian filmmaker, allowing him to tackle a feature with a much looser chain than what was provided to him in his previous feature, opening up his capabilities as a filmmaker, finding that auteur touch. It was a trust and collaboration that brought fruitful results as what Witherspoon and Valle have left us, is a remarkable tale that unshackles itself from some of mainstream cinema’s conventions, approaching a would be traditional biography with a penetrative flourish, one that displays once again the filmmaker’s ability to harness a stimulating and challenging performance, allowing Witherspoon to be the source of our stirred emotions and encouraged thoughts rather than have Vallée’s hand be visible in the demonstration of its scenes.
Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) embarks on a hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, initially the reasons are a mystery, leaving us only with an image of the character at her most expressive, a rage in the mountainous path as she throws her shoe off a steep and rocky hill, preparing us of the intensity of what is to come ahead. However with such an image, the film remains dormant throughout, at least from a physical standpoint, much of what we see is Cheryl repeatedly trek, almost aimlessly due to its shroud of mystery, understanding only over time that such a feat is entered unprepared and impulsively; despite this, the film becomes thematically rich in its reminiscent gestures and pathways of Cheryl’s past, unlocking her little by little until we reach the median of her soul either for us to sympathise of to empathise.
It is initially obvious that Cheryl has been led a stray, life has somehow punched her in the face and led her to a different path than what many hoped for her, and this is particularly apparent in the juxtaposition of her fond memories with her mother, and the harsh and pitiful depths of casual sexual encounters and introduction to illicit drugs; delivered to us in concentrated and flashing doses, the information seems enough to gain a collective insight into her history, but the film maintains momentum by enticing the audience of her true drive, the catalyst in her life that led her off the path in her life, during which Vallée emphasises greatly in the path she currently takes on the Pacific Crest Trail, her encounters with others along the way and gestured actions trigger the pieces of her past, and the memories themselves act as the pumping heart of her physical journey, working hand in hand that is inseparable from one another, Vallée and writer Nick Hornby deserving of great credit.
As I have touched on before, it is undoubtedly a return for Witherspoon, an escape from the crutches of the love-triangle or romantic-comedy dynamic that define her recent films, lacking in challenge or insight in the performances she brings. Much like McConaughey and Jared Leto, the performance in Wild is an emphasised one, a performance that highlights the true capabilities of the actress in such a way that dominates and refines the other aspects of its filmmaking construction; could such a film be as excellent as it is if it was missing the performance brought here by Witherspoon, even with the strong narrative structure intact? I truly doubt it, and the response would be the same if the scenario was reversed. It is a combination that is simply perfect for both Vallée and Witherspoon.
Wild is a film far from the suggested title, its tale is tamed intelligently, without an erratic beat, assembled with the perfect set of ingredients; an introspective look into a soul that attempts to find meaning into her life, a journey that constantly sways her much like life would; certainly a showcasing effort by both its director and star.