Based on the wildly popular memoir by Cheryl Strayed, Wild (Fox Searchlight) is as much a star vehicle for actress Reese Witherspoon (who portray Strayed) as it is for director Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club and the gay-themed C.R.A.Z.Y.).
One of the more unlikable characters in recent memory, Cheryl (Witherspoon) hasn't had an easy time of it. Her childhood was dysfunctional to say the least, with an alcoholic and physically abusive father who regularly beat her free-spirited mother Bobbie (Laura Dern). After starting a new life without the father, Bobbie starts taking college courses at the same time and school where Cheryl is enrolled. Cheryl is alternately proud of and embarrassed by (she ignores Bobbie in the halls at school) her mother.
Cheryl also has issues around men (let's call her promiscuous) and later substance abuse (she goes from snorting to smoking to shooting heroin). By the time she meets and then marries Paul (Thomas Sadoski), her personality disorders are too far gone and she essentially sabotages her marriage with infidelity and drugs. The death of Bobbie, who is only in her mid-40s, and an unexpected pregnancy, finally pushes Cheryl over the edge.
How does Cheryl intend to her proverbial shit together? By hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, from California to Oregon, alone. While on her trek, she has an abundance of time to look back over her life, tally up the people she hurt, while also avoiding the potential for trouble that might come from being a woman alone hiking across mountains and through wilderness (such as rattlesnakes, weather, pervy hunters with crossbows, and so on).
Vallée does an effective job of bringing Strayed's patchwork quilt of a life to the big screen. The interwoven flashbacks give the audience a strong sense of how Strayed got to where she is. Witherspoon holds her own in what appears to be a physically and emotionally demanding role.