Before the Oscars in the spring of 2006 I made the argument that Felicity Huffman should win Best Actress in “Transamerica” over Reese Witherspoon in “Walk the Line”.
There were two reasons for this. First, Huffman’s role was a true leading role whereas Witherspoon’s was actually a supporting role to Joaquin Phoenix. Second, that nomination was likely Huffman’s only shot at an Oscar and Witherspoon would be back. Obviously, we know Witherspoon won the Oscar.
Nine years later she’s likely to find herself as the main competition to Julianne Moore for the 2014 Oscar for Best Actress for her role in “Wild”, which was the movie my husband and I went to see on New Year’s Day.
“Wild” is a very different movie than “Walk the Line”. Whereas the 2005 movie was pretty straightforward Hollywood bio-pic “Wild” is a more artsy. The storyline is rather thin; following the death of her mother (Laura Dern) a woman named Cheryl (Witherspoon) turns into a slutty drug addicted mess. In an effort to find herself and get her life back on track she decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada. Along the way we see her incredible journey and a lot of her past via flashbacks.
There were a lot of things I liked about the movie. Reese Witherspoon is able to convincingly shed her rom-com imagine (something that Meg Ryan kept trying to do twenty years ago) and create a dark and complex character. It is probably the best performance of her career. Laura Dern is really fantastic as her mom and creates the portrait of a very interesting woman that I wish we had seen more of.
I think the movie has some interesting things to say about the relationships between children and parents when the children become more educated than their parents.
Last year I hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu so there were defiantly moments when I could relate to Cheryl’s journey. Of course, my four day three day hike is nothing compared to what she did. I don’t think I could even begin to attempt that particular journey
Despite all of its strengths “Wild” is only a good movie. I feel like it should be a great movie but it isn’t. The flashback scenes are often too short which leads to the film feeling disjoined. I wanted to see more of Cheryl’s relationship with her husband and brother. Interestingly, I feel like “Walk the Line” director James Mangold would have been a better choice as director than Jean-Marc Vallee. Mangold took “Girl, Interrupted”, a book that really isn’t cinematic at all, and turned it into one of the most realistic portraits of mental illness I’ve ever seen.
There is a reason the only Oscar buzz surrounding “Wild” is for the performance of Reese Witherspoon, as possibly Laura Dern, and it’s because the movie itself isn’t’ that special. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth seeing. If you like Reese Witherspoon or Laura Dern the movie is worth seeing for them.
These are two actresses in their prime and they deserve for their work to be seen.
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