Reese Witherspoon conquers self-doubt in “Wild”

This week at M.V. Film Center and Entertainment Cinemas.

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Photo by Anne Marie Fox

With a Golden Globe nomination and multiple regional wins under her belt, Reese Witherspoon strips away her movie-star image to hike the Pacific Crest Trail in “Wild.” Already playing at Edgartown’s Entertainment Cinemas, “Wild”opens at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center on Friday, Jan. 9.

Like “Tracks,”the story of a woman who crosses the Australian desert with four camels and a dog; “Into the Wild,”where a college grad hitchhikes to Alaska to live in the wild; and “All Is Lost,” about a shipwrecked sailor’s struggle to survive alone, the appeal of “Wild” comes from the challenge an individual faces to survive on her own in the wilderness. Adapted by Nick Hornby from Cheryl Strayed’s popular 2012 memoir of the same title, “Wild” follows the trek of a young woman grieving the loss of her mother, Bobbi, played by Laura Dern. Cheryl travels from the Mojave Desert near the Mexican border to Washington State.

Cheryl has led a life of dissipation, taking drugs and having promiscuous sex, after her mother’s premature death from cancer. As the movie, directed by Jean-Marc Vallée — also responsible for “Dallas Buyers Club” opens, Cheryl has decided to change her ways by hiking the 1,100-mile Pacific Crest Trail. Her goal is to recapture the person her mother believed her to be. She begins carrying a backpack so large she can hardly hoist it. Other hikers along the trail call her bag the “monster,” and eventually she is able to relinquish some of the paraphernalia that as an inexperienced hiker she has packed.

Filmed in Oregon, “Wild” follows Cheryl through breathtaking landscapes. Her hike brings plenty of challenges. She loses one of her too-small hiking boots down a ravine, throwing the other one after it in frustration. Using duct tape, she modifies a pair of sandals to wear until she’s able to get new boots. In the 94 days she spends on the trail, she meets a number of other hikers, mostly men. A reporter interviews her for his story on hobos, even though she insists she’s not one. A rancher who at first seems threatening takes her home for a hot meal provided by his wife. Two hunters she encounters come close to molesting her, but other hikers along the way are friendly and helpful. Her ex-husband, played by Thomas Sadowski, supports her by providing mail and supplies at prearranged sites. As Cheryl moves along the trail, she writes in her diary and enters fragments of poems by Emily Dickinson and others into the trail records. Flashbacks return the viewer to the life Cheryl experienced with her always cheerful single-parent mother and her brother as she grew up. Taking up almost a third of the movie, they also fill in details of her earlier drug-taking and sexual misadventures.

“You can always quit,” her best friend Aimee, played by Gaby Hoffman, tells Cheryl, but that is not a choice this determined woman wants to make. At times it is hard to ignore the movie-star sheen Ms. Witherspoon’s natural beauty evokes, and as her mother, Ms. Dern can be a little too perpetually positive. But as a journey of self-discovery, “Wild”is an entertaining and satisfying excursion for the moviegoer.

At M.V. Film Center, Vineyard Haven: Friday, Jan. 9, and Saturday, Jan. 10, 7:30 pm; Sunday, Jan. 11, 4 pm; Thursday Jan. 15, 7:30 pm.

For tickets and information, mvfilmsociety.com.

At Entertainment Cinemas, Edgartown: Thursday Jan. 8, 4:00 pm and 7:00 pm.

For tickets and information, entertainmentcinemas.com/locations/edgartown/.