Wild

Cheryl Strayed chose her last name, figuring the many meanings of the word “strayed” to be her heritage. It was she who, beloved for her candor and compassion, wrote the Rumpus advice column “Dear Sugar.” Also, one time, to work through some heavy stuff, she hiked 1,100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail by herself. Wild is the movie of the bestselling book that hike begat. Jean-Marc Vallée directs, from a Nick Hornby script, which is all well and good, but maybe also a little disappointing if you think too much about how this humbly literate prospectus of feminist gumption apparently couldn’t reach the big screen without ultimately getting handed off to a team of men. You might quarrel with the choice of Reese Witherspoon in the lead role, too, but it’s consistently clear that the material means a lot to her. Laura Dern, as Cheryl’s mother, is expectedly spry, and Gaby Hoffmann, as a close friend, registers warmly if too infrequently. Meanwhile, the casting of the lesser-knowns, those necessarily itinerant minor players, is absolutely spot on — they all seem like real human beings, which helps a lot if all they’re here to do is teach our heroine things about herself. Much attention also has been paid to editing and sound design, which adds turbulent layers of memory into her present-tense perseverance, but the effect seems sometimes like overstatement. That Strayed’s odyssey appears neatly timed to conclude with newfound self-acceptance is mostly just a function of how movies like this need to work. It is another survival story, after all, but an affectingly delicate one.