December 28, 2014 at 7:33 pm | Posted in 2014 | 1 Comment
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Reese Witherspoon’s cinematic journey has felt a lot like she was trying to find a path away from the perky protagonists of her youth (ie “Election,” “Pleasantville,” “Legally Blond”). This has, at times, met with mixed success (“Water for Elephants”) and, at times, been unfairly ignored (“Mud”). But, here, she finally gets her chance to show us the actress she has become. Through two hours focused almost solely on her, during which she is never off screen, Witherspoon is able to show a weathered vulnerability that is exactly what her character required. Not only does she look eerily similar to Cheryl Strayed, who was 10 years her junior, but she is also able to capture a sense of how much life Strayed had lived by that point and how tired she was. Witherspoon’s performance was a soft one that required little intensity but was captured mostly in the ways she looked: at the trail, at men, at her mother or herself in a mirror.This film was evocative in another, perhaps unintended, way for me; several times, the audience is reminded of what it is like for a woman to travel alone. This is an experience I can never fully appreciate. In fact, I can only observe a woman’s experience of being in the world when I am there with her. As such, this was a powerful reminder of male privilege and how different the world can look through eyes different than mine (which is also particularly true of race, of course). Much of the film is without traditional dialogue but it never feels dull. Strayed’s introspections were beautiful and moving. They were matched by the beautiful scenery along California’s Pacific Crest Trail. Likewise, the music was a perfect fit. Songs from Strayed’s childhood would fade faintly in and out of the background, very unlike a traditional soundtrack, and they added a perfect sense of nostalgia to the mood. From start to finish, this really was a lovely film.


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