In her 20s, the actress cultivated a blonde, Southern cheerleader image. However, after some flops and hitting her mid-30s, Reese Witherspoon exposes a new edge to her acting chops and finds career renewal with Wild.
The film, an adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s 2012 memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, opens Dec. 5. Witherspoon has begun doing publicity to promote the movie, which is a complete departure from anything she has done before from the movie’s grungy hair/make-up free look to the sex scenes to the physicality of the role (and carrying a massive backpack).
On its surface, the book was about Strayed’s solo 1,100 mile hike of trail from the Mojave Desert in Southern California to Washington State after her mother dies and her marriage dissolves. The memoir, which was a best seller and Oprah’s Book Club selection, is ultimately a gritty un-sugarcoated account of dealing with grief and searching for meaning in a life that had been in free fall. So is the movie and Witherspoon’s gritty performance as Strayed.
The trailer shows Reese Witherspoon loaded down with her gear on the lonely journey, fording rivers, trudging through snow, dealing with loneliness by befriending a fox, cathartically screaming from a mountain side and writing in her journal. An inexperienced hiker, Strayed doggedly takes on and accomplishes the long trip driven by blinding will and internal insights.
For Witherspoon, it is a meaty role that carries the film. People will either believe her as the lost drug-using women trying to find herself or not. She has said she chose the role as a new direction because the scripts she was seeing (and her last few films) “just weren’t as dynamic or as interesting as anything I felt I could do.”
The role is certainly more physical. Weighed down by a 60 pound backpack affectionately nicknamed Monster, Witherspoon said recently she had to repeatedly haul herself up and down snowy mountain slopes or wade into freezing water carrying the massive backpack.
Witherspoon was coached on the set by Strayed to be more authentic in the drug scenes, but the sex scenes were far from her comfort zone. The actress, who said after the Legally Blonde college essay video that she would never strip down to a bikini on film again, has several barely clad sex scenes in the movie with a series of actors as one-night stands. She agreed to the scenes but reportedly needed a hypnotist to help calm down enough to shoot them.
Witherspoon has always played likeable characters. Even Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair may have been a cynical social climber, but she had her charms. Portraying June Carter Cash in Walk the Line earned her an Oscar for Best Actress, and her new movie could mean another nomination, according to early buzz. For Reese Witherspoon, Strayed’s Wild, journey has definitely been an opportunity to comb her depths and odds are gives her an edge that most likely finds her on awards lists again.
By Dyanne Weiss