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WILD – BFI London Film Festival 2014

October 15, 2014

FestivalsFilm + Entertainment | by Francesco Cerniglia


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After Song for Marion in 2012 and Labour Day in 2013, this year’s May Fair Hotel Gala enriched the London Film Festival with another bold, inspired feature: Wild. The film is based on Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail”, a memoir of her 1,100-mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, and a best seller that topped many book club favourite lists in 2012, including The New York Times’ and Oprah’s.

By the time the book was published, Pacific Standard (actress Reese Witherspoon’s recently created film company) had optioned it for film rights. With Witherspoon already cast as lead actress, English legend Nick Hornby writing the screenplay and Dallas Buyers Club’s Jean-Marc Vallée signed as director, Wild had all it needed to be a very interesting feature.

The film starts with young, attractive Cheryl renting a room in a motel by the Mojave Desert. As we watch her prepare her backpack and get ready to leave, we understand that the story is cutting straight to the point, and her journey is starting immediately.

We soon realise that Cheryl is an amateur, and has no hiking experience; however, she has a very specific reason for taking on this adventure, and we don’t yet know what it is.

Her journey is everything but an easy one: all daily errands, from mounting the tent to cooking freeze-dried food, are a struggle; the desert is hot and desolated, nights are scary, and her backpack is insanely heavy.

Ten minutes into her hike, Cheryl is already thinking about quitting, but her motivation is too strong to just give up; when the first flashback of her past life begins, we have the proof that there’s much more at stake than a simple walk in the woods.

Each of Cheryl’s life events was a step in the direction of the Pacific Trail. Her journey is a discovery process, and a chance to reflect and reconnect with what really matters; a challenge to herself, rather than a struggle with nature.

Wild is beautifully shot and daring, but doesn’t delve quite as deeply as we would expect from a character-driven film. Flashbacks and diary entries enlighten us on Cheryl’s past life and struggles, and gradually clarify her motivations.

These segments run at the correct pace, and blend in naturally with the flow of the story; they satisfy our curiosity and define Cheryl’s character, but they don’t bring the plot forward.

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Meanwhile, Cheryl’s journey continues; the hike presents her with a series of threats, not always real, but invariably quick to disappear. Wild animals, creepy encounters and equipment failures are setbacks that enrich the journey only partially.

At times, the hiking storyline feels like a frustrating interruption in the stream of flashbacks, raising the doubt on which of the two films is more interesting to watch.

Despite all, Wild does a good job of leading us to sympathise with Cheryl. We wouldn’t want to be in her shoes, but we wish we had at least a fraction of her inspiration.

Wild is released in UK cinemas on January 16th.

Davide Prevarin