It took Cheryl Strayed 10 years to write Wild, her best-selling account of a 1,100-mile trek up the Pacific Crest Trail from California to Canada. Once producer Reese Witherspoon read the manuscript, the journey from book to screen was swift as screenwriter Nick Hornby (An Education) and director Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club) got to work. Unlike most redemption stories, Strayed didn't turn to religion, therapy, or the love of a good man when she hit rock bottom (divorce, heroin addiction). Instead, she set out to confront her own worst enemy: herself. As she walks, her mind wanders back to events from her past, namely the death of her mother, Bobbi (a touching Laura Dern). Those who know Witherspoon only as Elle Woods may be surprised by her unvarnished performance, but this is no Charlize-Theron-in-Monster transformation. As Witherspoon plays her, Strayed is more like an everywoman; most women wouldn't do what she did, but many have shared her feelings of loss and hopelessness. And unlike the men of Into the Wild and 127 Hours, she made it to the end of the road with mind and body intact, but Wild works best as a memorial to women like Bobbi who never got the chance to reinvent themselves. recommended

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