Reese Witherspoon takes ‘Wild’ ride at Telluride into Oscars race

A year after helming “Dallas Buyers Club,” which won Oscars for both Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, Jean-Marc Vallee returns with “Wild,” another true-life story about overcoming adversity. Oscar champ Reese Witherspoon (“Walk the Line”) plays Cheryl Strayed who makes a rash decision, after years of reckless behavior, a heroin addiction and the destruction of her marriage. Haunted by memories of her mother Bobbi (Laura Dern) and with absolutely no experience, she sets out to hike more than a thousand miles on the Pacific Crest Trail all on her own. 

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The Fox Searchlight title had its world premiere at the Telluride film festival on Friday in the prestigious Patrons Preview slot, which went to eventual Oscar champ “Argo” two years ago. The studio did well when it launched “The Descendants” in this same way back in 2011. Like both those films, “Wild” will also unspool at the Toronto film festival. However, as per the new TIFF policy of world premieres only in the first four days, it won’t be screen there till Sept. 8. 

Based on early reviews, “Wild” will still be a hot ticket when it gets to Toronto.

Stephen Farber (The Hollywood Reporter) found the film to be “alternately harrowing and heartbreaking, but laced with saving bursts of humor.  The popularity of Strayed’s book and the strong performance by Reese Witherspoon should ensure an audience for the movie and bring more accolades to the director, as well as to screenwriter Nick Hornby (About a Boy, An Education),  who adapts the book with finesse.”

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Justin Chang (Variety) thought Vallee “has elicited from Witherspoon an intensely committed turn that, in its blend of grit, vulnerability, physical bravery and emotional immediacy, represents easily her most affecting and substantial work in the nine years since “Walk the Line.” (The actress’ still-youthful appearance helps fudge her 12-year age gap with the 26-year-old Cheryl, as well as her only nine-year age gap with Dern.) Nor is it a surprise that Vallee, whose bracingly sharp editing on “Dallas Buyers Club” was one of that film’s more unsung virtues, has applied similarly bold cutting-room strategies here.”

And our pal Pete Hammond (Deadline) declared that Witherspoon, who is also a producer, “delivers her best screen work since her Oscar-winning Walk The Line and this three-dimensional portrayal of a woman searching for herself (after a disastrous divorce, her beloved mother’s –perfectly played by Laura Dern — death, sexual promiscuity, drugs and a stint on the streets) is certain to put her back in the thick of the Best Actress race this year.  It’s a whale of a tale and a great role. Witherspoon (who also has The Good Lie  and Inherent Vice upcoming) nails it. “

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