Wild: Witherspoon delivers Oscar worthy performance

Some films are designed for escapism, a chance to remove the viewer from the everyday grind and stresses of real life and pull them into somewhere new and exciting.

Other films are meant to draw the viewer into a cinematic experience, offering us something to learn from along the way.

Cheryl Strayed’s true-life story of a newly single woman hiking the 1,100 mile Pacific Crest Trail as a means to cope with loss isn’t meant as escapism.

There’s a passionate message of empowerment and rebirth in “Wild,” the latest film from director Jean Marc Vallée of “Dallas Buyers Club” fame. The film is an emotional roller coaster that will resonate with anyone who has lost a close loved one or feels alone with a sense of loss.

With a terrific script adapted from Strayed’s 2012 book by Nick Hornby, the film itself centers around Strayed’s journey from southern California to Canada and requires a tour de force performance from its leading actress.

A film like “Gravity,” for example, could have been as good if not a better movie with another actress taking the reins from Sandra Bullock.

You just can’t make “Wild” work without Reese Witherspoon.

Witherspoon plays Strayed with total commitment and honesty, baring her soul and body (quite literally) on screen in one of the most heartfelt performances in several years.

Audiences, especially predominantly female ones, will find themselves drawn to the unbridled vulnerability Witherspoon is able to draw from, pulling viewers deeper into the story.

Laura Dern, often the daughter and never the mother in feature films, provides a subtle, yet important counterbalance to Witherspoon’s at-times manic performance as Strayed’s mother.

The Pacific Crest Trail itself becomes a leading character within “Wild” with its expansive and varied landscapes painting a tremendous background for Strayed’s emotional journey of self-forgiveness.

Vallée’s decision to shoot the trail entirely in natural light is an inspired one that helps to maintain “Wild’s” grounded reality.

Led by an Oscar-worthy performance from Witherspoon, “Wild” is definitely one of the year’s best films and well worth seeing more than once.

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