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Non-Review Review: Wild

Wild is adapted from Wild: From Lost to Found, Cheryl Strayed’s autobiographical account of her spiritual 1,100 mile trek across the California Pacific Trail. The bulk of the movie features Reese Witherspoon carrying a gigantic backpack stuffed with the essentials – described accurately, and perhaps affectionately, by some observers as a “monster.” This image adorns the posters and publicity materials, and feels strangely appropriate. Cheryl may have carried a gigantic back upon her back, but Reese Witherspoon carries the entire movie.

To be fair, Wild is not a bad film on its own merits. It is perfectly functional, if a little familiar in places. However, it is Reese Witherspoon’s performance that sets the film apart. It is a powerful and naked lead performance which counts among the best work in the actress’ career. The plot and character beats may feel like they have been inherited from countless other “find yourself in nature” films, it is Witherspoon who imbues Cheryl (and, by extension, the film) with a warm humanity.

Into the wild...

Into the wild…

Witherspoon a momentous performance, and Wild seems keenly aware of this. The film knows it has a gifted performer at its core giving one of the most memorable performances of the year. So Nick Hornby’s screenplay and Jean-Marc Vallée are clever enough to stand back; the bulk of the film seems built around Witherspoon, a showcase for the performer. That is a lot of weight; even more than the hefty backpack that Strayed carried with her across California. Witherspoon is more than up to the task.

Wild is a movie that lives or dies on the strength of its lead performance. Luckily, Witherspoon is tremendous.

A long walk home...

A long walk home…

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Non-Review Review: Café de Flore

Café de Flore is very much a game of two halves. The first half is almost a psychedelic stream of consciousness collecting a series of intriguing and interesting moments that seem to refuse to add up. It perfectly evokes Pink Floyd, somewhat appropriate given how frequently the movie returns to the haunting opening of Dark Side of the Moon and even incorporates the iconic prism into its logo. However, the second half not only fails to live up to the promise of the more surreal first part of the film, it comes with several worrying implications that seriously undermine what had been a fascinating meditation on the way that music shapes our experiences.

Taking steps in the right direction?

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Non-Review Review: The Young Victoria

There are a few period dramas about classical nobility released every year. Most of them, such as The Dutchess are fairly bland and lifeless affairs – indeed, it’s hard to create an energy or dynamism around a world most of us have never known which is built upon self-restraint and self-control. The tendency is towards po-faced self-importance and excessive melodrama. While I would be hard pressed to describe The Young Victoria as “exciting” or “thrilling”, it is one of the better period pieces I have seen to focus on the British Royal Family, perhaps because – despite the impressive scope of its subject matter (Queen Victoria was, as the end titlecard informs us, the longest-serving monarch of Great Britain) – it remains tightly focused. It’s a story of courtship and romance, loyalty and dependency. It’s a genuinely and honestly romantic film.

Royalty and politics make strange bedfellows...

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