It’s encouraging to see Reese Witherspoon use her clout as a celebrity and a producer to get challenging and worthy projects off the ground, even more so when they focus on women’s stories (something American films, even independent ones, are still very rarely about). With her latest, she acquired the rights to a memoir by Cheryl Strayed telling her story of going on a solo trip across the Pacific coast in order to recover from a personal tragedy, and hand-picked her collaborators – including the intriguing Quebec director Jean-Marc Vallée (very much in demand after the success of last year’s excellent Dallas Buyers Club, but whose earlier work is all worth checking out, especially his breakthrough hit CRAZY) and novelist Nick Hornby to write the adaptation (whose clever script here mirrors the fine work he did adapting An Education).

Casting herself as the lead when she’s done all this legwork is more than reasonable, especially when Witherspoon turns in another fine, measured performance to portray a fractured, multi-layered woman without a hint of vanity or self-involvement. She is helped by a strong supporting cast, particularly Laura Dern who does a tremendous amount with very little screen time as her mother. Vallée finds just the right balance in drawing out the emotional resonance from factual events, as he did with his last film, and Hornby’s script takes many brave decisions in eschewing the literal and favouring metaphor and expressionism. So even if it ultimately boils down to a simple and familiar “woman finds herself” story, it’s told with such commitment and talent from the people involved that it’s hard not to admire.

A film that revolves around women for a change8
Reese Witherspoon's drive and determination, both in getting the film made and in her excellent performance9
Laura Dern's supporting work, doing so much with so little8
Jean-Marc Vallée's direction, and Nick Hornby's screenplay8
Ultimately a fairly cliched and unoriginal story, sadly4
Bechdel Test Passes
  • Features more than one named female character
  • The female characters talk to each other
  • They talk about something other than men
Bechdel Test Failures
  • n/a
7Overall Score

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.