First Hit: The story is compelling and I’m not sure it was reflected in its full glory here. Reese Witherspoon plays Cheryl Strayed, a woman who was lost in her life and found herself again by hiking the Pacific Coast Trail (PCT).
The opening scene is great as it shows Cheryl tossing a boot over a cliff after the other one gets clumsily shoved off the cliff edge while she is pulling off a toenail. It shows her naivety in this hiking endeavor along with her quick tempered anger and easily accessed frustration.
This scene fully represents who she is at that moment. It is a great scene. It is unfortunate that not all the following scenes measure up as well. This isn’t to say there aren’t good to great scenes in the film, there are and they just don’t stand up to this opening scene.
Having hiked a lot when I was younger as part of our family backpacking vacations into the high sierras, I enjoyed the scenes of the mountains, meadows, and trails. We learn why she is on the trail through flashbacks which are like thought bubbles, brought up by music, conversation, or situations.
These flashbacks are OK, however they didn’t give me enough context as to why she became a drug addict, slept with everyone in sight, and tried to destroy her life. There was more to the story and it wasn’t here.
Witherspoon was very strong as Cheryl however I think the way the story was told and directed was the weak point of this film. Laura Dern was really engaging and full as Cheryl’s mom. Gabby Hoffman as Cheryl’s friend Aimee was very good. I liked her repulsion of Cheryl’s lifestyle when they were having dinner at the diner. Thomas Sadoski as Cheryl’s ex-husband Paul was also very strong as the man who loved Cheryl through thick and thin. Nick Hornby wrote the script which was very reflective of Cheryl’s book. Jean-Marc Vallee directed this film and this is where I think that this film falters a bit. There is a lot to digest from this book/script and it's a good attempt – not great.
Overall: I did enjoy the film but I wasn’t satisfied that it told the story deeply enough.