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Reese Witherspoon is walking a thousand miles back into Oscar’s good graces.  The 2006 Best Actress winner hasn’t had a great track record since, but in Wild, she delivers one of her best, and easily her most mature performance to date.

Based on a true story, Reese plays Cheryl Strayed, a woman who decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail on her own. We meet when she is just starting her journey and we have no idea why she’s made this daunting decision. As the movie progresses, we see flashbacks of Cheryl’s life and how she ended up being who she is.  This is a woman who managed to figure out herself that she has hit rock bottom.  She’s a drug addict, now a divorcee since she had sex with any man who asked, and couldn’t find any happiness in her life.  The walk is meant to redeem herself.

reeseWhat’s interesting about Wild is that there’s not a lot of lengthy scenes.  The moments are brief, so the character of Cheryl is built through all these little fragments we get.  It fractures Reese’s performance but because the actress has such a commanding presence when she’s onscreen, she still shines.  She’s aided by director Jean-Marc Vallee (who gave us last year’s Dallas Buyers Club), who guides this story with such an assured hand that the flashback-heavy story never feels disjointed.  This is a physically-demanding role for Reese and her character’s struggle and pain just aches off the screen.

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Also doing fantastic work is Laura Dern as Cheryl’s Mom.  Her role is also in brief moments, and she has way less screentime than Reese, but she packs a wallop.  She actually has the most memorable moment in the film when she’s talking to Cheryl about finding “your best self”.  Dern exudes warmth and charm.

The mother and daughter relationship leads to a really powerful conclusion that creeps up on you.  Cheryl isn’t an extraordinary woman.  She’s just someone trying to figure out her life, just like the rest of us, and that’s what makes it all the more impactful.

Wild isn’t groundbreaking, but it’s a well-told story given 2 us by 2 fantastic female actors and a talented director.

Grade:  A-

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