Wild ★★★★

Reese Witherspoon wears no makeup in Wild, the film adaptation of Cheryl Strayed's autobiographical book. The shiny-faced pixie of Sweet Home Alabama sheds her concealer and Upper East Side wardrobe, revealing the raw human underneath.

After years of bad choices, Cheryl decides to hike a thousand miles across the Pacific Crest Trail by herself as a means of breaking the pattern of sleazy adventures that comprise her daily life.

As the terrain becomes increasingly threatening, she reflects upon the events that led to her self-imposed exile. The images are discordant; mother dancing loosely in the kitchen; a hand unzipping a dress; a man's long-suffering glare over the steering wheel. Wisps of memory soon congeal to form a portrait of adolescent trauma. In the grand tradition of self-discovery-journey movies, this is not about escaping but returning.

Dern and Witherspoon have been Oscar-nominated for their performances. Director Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyer's Club) turns the panoramic, vividly American landscape into a lyrical metaphor on the nature of life. It's a meditative experience that won't appeal to the impatient viewer. Easily Witherspoon's finest hour, everything about Wild seems to be staring back at us with a warm, retiring expression.

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