Sunday, May 3, 2015

'Wild' at Heart

Director: Jean-Marc Valle
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski, Gaby Hoffmann, Kevin Rankin
Released: December 19, 2014

Oscar nominations:
Best Actress - Reese Witherspoon (lost to Julianne Moore for Still Alice)
Best Supporting Actress - Laura Dern (lost to Patricia Arquette for Boyhood)

I really liked this movie, but I am a sucker for survival stories, although this is more about self-discovery, but there are definitely some survival aspects as it's about a woman (Reese Witherspoon) hiking the PCT on her own. I just assumed PCT stood for Pacific Coast Trail and I was right about the "Pacific" and Trail" part, but I did some research and found out it stand for the Pacific Crest Trail. Here are some interesting facts about the PCT which I gathered from the oh-so-factual site, Wikipedia: It's 2,663 miles long (she hiked over 1,000 miles) and obviously runs through California, Oregon, and Washington. It was classified as a  National Scenic Trail in 1968, but wasn't complete until 1993.

The movie is based on a memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed who is portrayed by Witherspoon, who bought the rights to the movie even before the book was published in 2012 (she also bought the rights to Gone Girl so she's a savvy and smart businesswoman - Elle Woods would be proud!). She walked the trail back in 1995, so only two years after it was officially completed. She wanted to walk the trail because she needed to sort things out for herself. Her mother (Laura Dern) had died only a couple years back from lung cancer and Cheryl, who had married at a very young age, started spiraling out of control as she started using heroin and sleeping with other men to make herself "feel better" and forget her pain. Cheryl was 26 when she hiked the PCT in 1995 and Reese just turned 39 in March so the movie took a little bit of liberty with that, but Reese looks youthful enough she can pull off playing a mid 20 year old. Of course they never mention what her age is in the movie! (Sidebar: did you know that Reese's first name is actually Laura? Reese is a middle name. I learned that from a trivia podcast I listen to called Good Job, Brain). 

The film begins in the middle of her hike as a little teaser and has what has to be the most cringe worthy scene of the entire movie: Cheryl has been walking for awhile and when she peels off her hiking boots and socks, one of her big toenails is all bloody and has partially come off. Lord, it's giving me the heebie jeebies just thinking about it! She's sitting up high and just rips off the sucker. I tried to remind myself this was just a movie and it was a fake toenail, but eesh! It reminded me of the scene in Castaway when Tom Hanks has to hit a rock at his mouth to knock out a bad tooth. The pain is so unbearable that she looses her balance and as she does so, one of her boots goes down the mountain (or maybe it was a hill? I'm not good with geological terms!). The point is, that boot is long gone as there's no way she can go down and get it and she throws her other boot down the mountain too! She still had something to wear on her feet as she had sandals, but still! Well, we later find out, when watching the movie in chronological order, that her boots were a size too small for her and she would be getting a new pair at the next pit stop she stopped at. (I don't know if they're actually called "pit stops", I have Amazing Race terminology in my head!) At these places, she receives care packages and letters with money from her ex-husband (Thomas Sadoski) and can stock up on water and food and get a good meal and meet up and converse with other hikers.

She meets many people along her journey, some who are also hiking the PCT and some who are not. On her first week of hiking, she doesn't have the right equipment to use her cooking equipment and thus has to eat cold mush. She asks a farmer if he can drop her off at a motel so she can get a shower and some food and he tells her he can't because he has to finish plowing the fields, but she can wait in his truck and he'll take her. As she's waiting, she finds a gun in his car, but that wasn't what made him scary. Not even inviting (well, more demanding the way he said it) to his house so she can eat and take a shower was scary (but would make any young woman uneasy), but when he asked what kind of woman she was, I was thinking, this guy is going to rape her! Which is what the movie probably wanted us to think and even Cheryl is clearly uncomfortable and lies about her husband being up ahead and that they just got separated. But we find out the man is harmless and brings her back to his house where his wife has cooked a homemade meal and drives her to the store the next day so she can buy the right equipment.

However, she does meet two shady guys who are hunting later on in her journey. They don't hide the fact at all that they would rape her if given the opportunity and make really gross comments about her of them even spies on her when she's changing, eww! So she hightails it out of there.

Most of the people she meets are hikers, including another woman who she's relieved to meet because there are mostly men who are hiking. She meets one hiker (Kevin Rankin) and I get the feeling that she wanted to hook up with him. She did pack condoms! She finds out later that he quit hiking because he didn't want to deal with the snow that is part of the Sierras crossing. She also has to deal with extreme heat and dehydration, hopping across huge boulders, crossing rapids (which she falls into, so that couldn't be fun being wet for the rest of that day) and rainstorms. Luckily, she doesn't ever come across any bears, but she does come across a rattlesnake and as she was looking at it and walking backwards, I was so afraid she was going to accidentally step on another one! Her first night of camping, she is really scared because she keeps hearing a noise and we the viewers see it's just a rabbit eating. One night she feels something in her sleeping bag (OMG ewwww!) and rightfully freaks out and jumps out of her tent and turns her sleeping bag inside out. It was some kind of harmless (but big and hairy!) caterpillar. This was the same day she saw the rattlesnake, so she was still a bit shaken up (no pun intended!).

Towards the end of her trip when she was either just about to leave Oregon or had just entered into Washington, she comes across an old woman and her young grandson who had lost their llama and Cheryl had found it for them. The little boy was so cute and asked Cheryl about her mommy who told him she died because she was sick and the boy tells her his mommy is a music teacher and asks her if she wants to hear him sing a song and she says yes and he sings her a song which had both Cheryl and me weeping our little eyes out! The song was called "Red River Valley". Adorable little kids who sing inspirational songs in their sweet angelic little voices just make my tear ducts go into overdrive, but honestly, it doesn't take much to make me cry!

I would love to know how much her gear weighed because that looked very heavy. The first day of her hike when she's in her motel room getting ready, she has a hell of a time trying to get it on her back. Most of the weight looked like it came from her huge jug of water!  At one of the pit stops, a man gives her advice and tells her she should only pack what she needs and get rid of the extra weight. She does get rid of a few things she never uses (like a saw) or doesn't really matter that much (deodorant), but it didn't look like she lost any weight off her pack!

Throughout the movie we see flashbacks of happier times of her with her mom and her then husband and we also see what her and her brother go through when their mom gets diagnosed with lung cancer and the moment she starts to fall apart. By this time, the only person she has as a support system is her best friend (Gaby Hoffman) but she thinks Cheryl is going too far and is angry at her. Cheryl took this journey as a way to prove she's strong and find herself again. I have to admire what she did; not everyone can do what she did. I know I couldn't; I would be way too scared to go on an adventure like that on my own. Even if I were with a group of people, I still would be hesitant what with all the wildlife, crazy weather, and strenuous obstacles you would have to climb around. Now if I didn't have to worry about any of that and had a good meal and a hot shower and a good night's sleep at the end of every day, I would totally do it! Easy peasy! 

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