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Why I’m Not Wild About “Wild”

December 14, 2014


If you don’t think this year’s field of potential Best Actress nominees is the weakest one in recent memory, consider this: You may soon hear the words “Oscar winner Jennifer Aniston.” To be fair, I haven’t seen Cake yet—nor has almost anyone else, as it hasn’t been released—and Aniston may be a revelation as a victim of chronic pain. But I’m still in pain from watching her last attempt at Serious Acting, The Good Girl, in which she did most of her character work by slumping her shoulders.

I haven’t gotten to see a couple of the other would-be nominees yet either. Julianne Moore’s Still Alice (in which she plays a victim of early Alzheimer’s) just completed its token one-week release in New York and LA to qualify for consideration, and I blinked and missed it. And Amy Adams’ Big Eyes doesn’t come out until Christmas, but considering that I’ve been less-than-impressed by the three most recent of her five nominated performances (her unsteady turns in The Fighter, The Master and American Hustle), it seems unlikely that she’ll change my mind about the fact that she’s America’s Most Pleasant Yet Overrated Actress.

As for The Theory of Everything‘s Felicity Jones, she’s great but in another year with more worthy lead female performances, she’d be a lock for Best Supporting Actress, which Jennifer Connelly won for a very similar role as a genius’ long-suffering wife in A Beautiful Mind. (Why Jones is entered as a lead actress and The Imitation Game‘s Keira Knightley is considered a supporting actress for a very similar role is something only a genius could explain to me.) Then there’s Rosamund Pike in Gone GirlI confess: I don’t get it. Her character, her performance, any of it.

I would’ve preferred to see Reese Witherspoon, who produced Gone Girl, play the title role, even though she would’ve been wildly miscast. Especially since she’s just as wildly miscast in Wild, which has inexplicably given her a serious shot at a second Best Actress Oscar. I won’t quibble with her winning a statuette for her pleasingly plucky performance as June Carter Cash in 2005’s Walk the Line. But I just don’t find her a compelling enough actress to command the screen nearly alone for two hours in this poky adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s memoir about how a grueling 1,000 mile hike along the Pacific Coast Trail somehow healed her of heroin addiction, promiscuous infidelity and grief over the death of her impossibly optimistic mother (Laura Dern, an actress who’s truly Wild at Heart and who really should’ve switched parts with Witherspoon—hell, there’s less than a 10-year age difference between them).

This movie should be wild, but with the bland-as-skim-milk Witherspoon in the lead role, it’s merely mild. She gets physically naked in the film, but never reveals herself emotionally. The acclaim she’s received seems mostly to be attributed to the fact that—just like Jennifer Aniston in Cake—she dared to go make-up free. In 2014 Hollywood, apparently this equals great acting.

For a truly strong female lead performance that may get passed over by Oscar, check out Hillary Swank in Tommy Lee Jones’ satisfyingly tough-minded Western The Homesman. As flinty spinster Mary Bee Cuddy, she accompanies Jones’ titular ne’er-do-well on a grueling journey of their own, transporting three mentally ill women through dangerously unsettled territory. She’s rivetingly brave and unsentimental.

If there’s any justice, Boys Don’t Cry and Million Dollar Baby winner Swank will be gunning for a Best Actress three-peat, while Reese Witherspoon would be in the Supporting Actress race for a role that’s much better suited to her, drug-addled detective Joaquin Phoenix’s straight-laced lawyer girlfriend in Inherent Vice. But Witherspoon’s peeps have clearly decided to put all her Oscar eggs in the Wild basket, and the likely result will be: No justice; Yes, Reese!

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  1. It wasn’t a perfect movie. Sometimes, I did feel like the narration got to be a bit much at times. However, that said, it was still a solid performance from Witherspoon that made the movie a better watch. That, and the fact that it’s a story that actually goes somewhere to tell you more about this character, rather than just meandering the whole time. Good review.

  2. OMG yes, Wild is bland as they come. Reese, who is generally so interesting to watch, just fades into the scenery. I also wanted her to star in Gone Girl, but I ended up really love rosamund in that movie (which is one of my faves of the year).

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Are “Big Eyes” and “The Gambler” Good Bets? | Fretts on Film
  2. Be Gone, Girl! The Year’s 10 Worst Movies | Fretts on Film
  3. Why Jennifer Aniston Didn’t Take the “Cake” | Fretts on Film
  4. Why Julianne Moore Will (Finally) Win an Oscar | Fretts on Film
  5. Will a Guy and a Gal Go Wild for “Home Again”? | Fretts on Film

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