Wild at the BFI London Film Festival

The BFI London Film Festival: Wild

Gather round film-lovers, for it’s that time of year again – yes, the BFI London Film Festival is back! It saddens me to say that I did not get the chance to see this year’s prime starlets, (Mr Turner, Foxcatcher and The Imitation Game spring to mind) but all is not lost. ‘Wild’ has crept below many people’s radars, even my own. I can blame the marketing campaign as much as I like but I should have known better. This is director Jean-Marc Vallée’s second film of 2014, and the first, ‘Dallas Buyers Club’, was outstanding, landing two Oscars. Is ‘Wild’ another Academy contender?

Based on Cheryl Strayed’s similarly titled memoir, ‘Wild’ focuses on her hike along the Pacific Crest Trail in the mid-nineties. Years of reckless behaviour as a drug and sex addict, kickstarted by the untimely death of her beloved mother, have culminated with her husband filing for divorce, forcing Strayed to get back on track with the life she once had. The narrative is reflective of her erratic consciousness, with flashbacks stuttering from scene to scene, varying drastically in length but with precision – it’s a perfect reflection of her psyche, captured through this medium in large part due to the phenomenal dada-esque editing skills of Vallée and the screenplay by Nick Hornby (of all people).

And to think, I haven’t even got to the star of the show – Reese ‘Legally Blonde’ Witherspoon. I can mock her all I like, but she’ll still win an Oscar – honestly, I don’t think I can praise her highly enough – she absolutely nails it. This is by far better than her Oscar-winning performance as June Carter in the Johnny Cash biopic ‘Walk The Line’ (which was, incredibly, nine years ago!). ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ came out earlier this year, lest we not forget, and it seems Vallée has a knack for getting the best out of his actors (McConaughey and Leto won both actor accolades between them) and seems to have elicited the same response from Witherspoon. Laura Dern also delivers: she performs well in her limited appearances as mother Bobbi – a job well done, I must say… a Best Supporting Actress on the cards? Perhaps so. Another double-team actor scoop at the Academy and Vallée will no doubt have DiCaprio breathing down his neck.

I would have given ‘Wild’ full marks if it wasn’t for the ending – it’s washed down to twenty seconds of epiphany which works in the sense that it leaves you wanting more but it’s bloody annoying. Despite this, I’d advise anyone to go out of their way to watch it. To put it simply, Vallée has done it again: another striking biopic that observes the human condition of one particular individual’s gradual ascent from the depths of despair. I’m a little disappointed he committed to the same type of film twice in the same year, but I can’t complain about their quality – he needs to divert into more challenging territory, that’s for sure. I look forward to it.

(****) 4 STARS