“Based on a true story” is a potent phrase. At its best, it can make on-the-nose sentiment transcendent and give irony real teeth; it can take a cynical conceit and make it indispensable. “Movie moments” feel like cheap cliches in fiction, but observed in the wild they’ll floor you.
But the opposite doesn’t hold: flooring experiences won’t always yield good movie moments, and in Wild, there aren’t many to observe. It tells the (true) story of Cheryl Strayed, a 26-year old who embarked alone on the 1,100 mile Pacific Crest Trail after hitting rock bottom. Over the course of her journey she learns to be content with herself, in solitude, flaws and all. As an inspirational story that’d be plenty to go off of — I was empathetic to her experience and, like The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, driven to go out and live life a bit more. As a narrative, however, it’s limp: her motivations are never particularly clear, her journey is devoid of obvious highs and lows, and while I’m sure her revelations were life-changing in-person, on screen they’re little more than shrugging platitudes. A better film could have taken the same messy truth and gleaned something profound from it; failing that, a little artistic liberty could have gone a long way. What we got was a perfectly fine crowd-pleaser, and the two hours — carried by Witherspoon’s sincere performance — were never dull. They just weren’t sharp enough to linger.
She would walk 500 miles, and she would walk 500 more, just to be the woman who’d walk a thousand miles to stop at Portland, OR. It’s a nice sentiment, but not riveting to watch.
Mini review 2/6 at: