At age nine Richard Crouse saw The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean at the Astor Theatre in Liverpool, Nova Scotia. Paul Newman starred, John Huston directed and Richard was hooked on the big screen. Since then he has seen thousands of movies, written about most of them in the pages of Metro, talked about them on television shows like Canada AM, where he has spent the last decade as film critic and on the radio on his own syndicated Bell Media radio show The Richard Crouse Show. He is also the author of six books on pop culture history including Who Wrote the Book of Love, the best-selling The 100 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, its sequel The Son of the 100 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, the bestselling Raising Hell: Ken Russell and the Unmaking of The Devils and the upcoming Elvis is King: Costello’s My Aim is True.
Read Richard’s list of books-turned-movies that are likely to be nominated for Academy Awards HERE!
“Wild,” the new film from Jean-Marc Vallée, the Academy Award nominated director of “Dallas Buyer’s Club,” is a road movie. Or rather, a path movie as star Reese Witherspoon hardly spends any of her 1000-mile journey from Mojave Desert to Canada on an actual road.
Witherspoon is Cheryl Strayed, a literate young woman whose life spins out of control after a family tragedy. To ease her pain she steps outside of her marriage to Paul (“The Newsroom’s” Thomas Sadoski) and into a world of booze, drugs and anonymous sex. She calls herself an experimentalist—the “girl who says yes instead of no”—but when she hits rock bottom she runs away from the past toward an uncertain future, cleansing herself and her soul with a 1000-mile trek on the Pacific Crest Trail. “I’m obsessive,” she says, “but this is stretch for me.”
Most road movies are linear. They start at point ‘a’ and by the time the main character is at point ‘z’ they have undergone a spiritual journey as well as a physical one. In “Wild” Cheryl moves continuously moves forward but the story jumps to-and-fro with flashbacks to her childhood and drug fuelled past. The fractured timeline supplies an impressionistic look at Cheryl’s life, as though we are sifting through her memories, looking for clues as to why she ended up on the trail.
It’s a dreamily effective way to tell her story. Filled with happiness, pain, sorrow and more melancholy than a Patsy Cline ballad, it feels like a life on parade. Like puzzle pieces the snippets piece together to eventually form a whole.
The story of Cheryl’s physical survival—too tight boots, toenail trauma, dehydration—is less interesting than her quest for emotional survival. Witherspoon is best not when she’s fumbling with a bowl of “cold mush” or a broken propane heater, but when she puts herself “in the way of beauty, to become the woman her mother (a terrific Laura Dern) said she could be.” Mom told her to “find your best self and hold on to it,” which is not only good advice but also gives Witherspoon the chance to dig deep to find the character.
She can play the comedic bits—struggling with a backpack twice as big as her and being mistaken for a “lady hobo”—but it’s the sensitive stuff that hits home here.
It’s too bad that the movie, in its last thirty minutes, doesn’t trust the audience to process what it just saw. Near the end spirit animals appear and Witherspoon’s narration recaps her journey. Unless you walk in during the movie’s last act you already know everything about the journey and don’t need a summary.
Luckily the last few minutes also contain a scene so strange and emotional it rescues it from tipping over into sentimentality. Walking along the path, almost at her destination, Cheryl encounters a young boy and his grandmother. After some conversation the lad sings a verse or two of “Red River Valley” and provides the movie with one of its quietly emotional highlights.
Metro’s Reel Guys columnists Richard Crouse and Mark Breslin take a look at this year’s crop of potential crowd pleasers at the festival.
Richard: Mark, every year I look forward to covering the festival with a mix of dread and anticipation. The dread part comes from knowing how I’m going to feel once the 10 days of 18-hour shifts is finally over. The drooling anticipation part comes along with the slate of films TIFF offers up. This year the new David Cronenberg film is top of my list. In Maps to the Stars, he showcases the stupid, venal and stratospherically self-involved behaviour that goes on behind the scenes in Beverly Hills’ gated communities. The idea of debuting a jaundiced look at Hollywood at the biggest film festival in North America appeals to my rebellious side.
Mark: Can’t wait, Richard, for this or any other Cronenberg! I’m also a big fan of Jason Reitman, who consistently delivers movies that plumb the abyss of the zeitgeist. His latest, Men, Women, and Children, should be no exception. Based on one of my favourite novels by Chad Kultgen, it’s a look at how the Internet is warping families, twisting our sexuality and mediating our desires. Oh, and it’s a comedy.
RC: Mark, the sci-fi musical genre has been sadly overlooked at TIFF in past years. That changes with Bang Bang Baby, starring Jane Levy as a 1960s teenager whose dreams of rock ’n’ roll stardom are dashed when a chemical leak in her town causes mass mutations and “threatens to turn her dream into a nightmare.” Then there’s The Editor, a giallo-comedy tribute to the films of Mario Bava and Dario Argento about a one-handed film editor who becomes the prime suspect in a brutal series of murders.
MB: Sounds great, Richard! I’ll stand in line to see the new Denys Arcand film, An Eye For Beauty. Here’s a director not afraid to take a satirical look at our modern mores, but he’s never tackled a love story before. Some of it takes place in Toronto, so I’m expecting a sly gimlet-eyed view from this great Québécois director.
RC: Speaking of great Québécois directors, Jean-Marc Vallée, the Canadian Oscar nominee for Dallas Buyers Club, returns to TIFF with Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon in the story of a woman who finds an escape from her self-destructive ways on a 1,100-mile solo hike along the Pacific Crest Trail. I’m also psyched about Haemoo. With a script by Snowpiercer penner Bong Joon-ho, this movie about a fishing crew smuggling illegal immigrants from China to Korea promises wild action and unexpected thrills.
MB: Richard, do you realize all our picks inadvertently turned out to be Canadian directors? I’m looking forward to Black and White by Mike Binder. It promises to be a heartfelt drama about an interracial family with issues. Binder is from Detroit but went to summer camp in Muskoka, so he qualifies as an honorary Canuck.
The Toronto International Film Festival premieres some of the best movies across the globe and attracts some of the biggest names in Hollywood. This year is certainly no exception with expected appearances from Reese Witherspoon, Robert Downey Jr., Kristen Wiig, Bill Murray and more.
Each year we get the inside scoop on the hottest TIFF movie premieres from renowned Canadian critic Richard Crouse, an expert in what films to see…and what films to skip…