Director: Jean-Marc Vallée (2015)
Reese Witherspoon abandons her clean cut perky persona for sex and drugs in this meandering march to personal redemption.
In order to distance herself from her chaotic past, Cheryl punishes herself by hiking alone over a thousand miles along the picturesque Pacific mountain trail; the barren deserts, snowy mountains and lush forests are all captured with tourist propaganda beauty.
Promiscuity, alcohol and drugs have contributed to a failed marriage, pregnancy and subsequent failed therapy. Despite her mother Bobbi (Laura Dern) being a warm, inspiring and optimistic presence, it’s Bobbi’s story that has compounded Cheryl’s self-destructive behaviour and the trigger for her long walk.
Despite Cheryl’s anger issues we warm to her charm and humour, admiring her dogged determination and perseverance in maintaining a relationship with ex-husband Paul (Thomas Sadoski).
With insufficient preparation she battles grief, guilt and remorse as well as extreme temperatures, rattlesnakes, gun-toting hillbillies, loneliness, lack of food, inelegant toilet facilities and large amounts of unwanted male attention.
Even so the walk itself is fairly uneventful and she receives the frequent help of strangers plus a welcome taste of romance.
With a far from satisfactory script structure from Brit writer Nick Hornby, the reasons for her trek revealed in a series of flashbacks. This means most of the drama has happened before the film has even begun, creating a void where the tension should be.
In heavy-handed fashion inspirational phrases are scrawled across the screen as if we’re not capable of listening to or understanding literature. Worse, there’s no consistent application of the conceit.
It’s an unusual criticism to make – but what this film seems to be lacking most is a train of camels.