Jean-Marc Vallee

FILM REVIEW: “WILD”

‘Wild’

Written by: Nick Hornby, Cheryl Strayed (novel),

Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallee

Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern

Story: Haunted by her past drug abuse, tragedy, and infidelity, Cheryl Strayed decides to walk the 1,100 mile Pacific Crest Trail to heal her body, mind and soul.

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Wild is a film that has garnered a lot of attention over recent months, and has been on the campaign trail for some serious awards. Witherspoon missed out on the Golden Globe, but managed to secure herself an Oscar nomination. This makes for an interesting task in reviewing the film.

The story of ‘Wild’ is simple and director Jean-Marc Vallee really could of made either a beautiful or an abysmal film out of it. When you take such a simple story you run the risk of making either a boring film or a film that really tried too hard to be introverted or philosophical. Wild is neither. While it does get off to a relatively slow start, the film provides the perfect amount of philosophy to balance the technical ‘hiking’ aspects of the film.

Strayed, on her journey, faces a number of issues due to both the physically torturous nature of the hike, to struggling to deal with her own prior indiscretions. It would be easy to say that Strayed is not a likeable character, however within her ability to be self deprecating and at the same time inwardly optimistic, we find something undeniably relatable. Anyone who has ever done something that they’re not proud of that really stays with them is going to be able to understand at some level what it is that the protagonist is dealing with.

Witherspoon’s performance is strong, and perhaps the strongest we have seen from her to date: this is a considerable statement since Witherspoon has always been one of the most consistently reliable performers within her genre. Witherspoon gives Strayed a sense of humanity and a genuinely real nature which draws an investment out of the audience. While we can try to be critical of her performance (because this is what we do), there really isn’t much that we can fault.

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Jean-Marc Vallee has constructed a film that is stark: it contrasts so tightly the beauty of nature vs real life in quick cuts between Strayed’s heroin binges and her new life living on bare necessities. This contrast alone adds depth to the film and begs the viewer to notice the differences between fundamental need and desire. Where Cheryl may have made decisions in the past based on desire, as we all do, it was getting back to nature and the essentials of human life that made her human again.

Perhaps the most brilliant part of this film is the soundtrack. With artists such as Wings, Simon & Garfunkel, Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen, and Portishead to name a few, the score will bring any music lover to their knees. The songs are all emotional and are tracks that can hold personal interest to viewers, which only opens us up more to relate to the loneliness and isolation of the main character.

All in all, ‘Wild’ is well balanced, patient, and poetic. It really is a film that looks inwards and a film that will touch even the most insensitive soul. We will most definitely watch again.

Rating: 9.5/10

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FILM REVIEW: ‘DALLAS BUYERS CLUB’ (2013

“Dallas Buyers Club”

Written by: Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack

Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallee

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner

Story: In 1985, drug, sex and alcohol addict Ron Woodroof is diagnosed with AIDS and sets out to make medication readily available for those in the same position.

 

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This year’s awards season is jammed packed with films looking at socially and culturally sensitive issues. Where there is ’12 Years A Slave’ giving us an extremely graphic and difficult to watch vision of racism and slavery in the pre-civil war United States, Jean-Marc Vallee gives us ‘Dallas Buyers Club’: an almost punishing look at the treatment of AIDS victims during the epidemic of the 1980s and 90s.
 
The film opens the way it means to continue, with graphic use if sex, drugs and alcohol to paint the picture of Ron Woodroof. It becomes evident that we are not supposed to like this man: his enormous disrespect for other people is on show. He is a violent homophobic which becomes the most ironic part of his situation. Looking at McConaughey on screen he is shockingly thin (the actor lost 47 pounds for the role) and his face is gaunt and almost lifeless. It is not uncommon for an actor to change their appearance for a role, we could name multiple examples, however it is rare that this transformation leads to such a fascinatingly good performance. In Dallas Buyers Club we get two of these. Jared Leto is remarkable in his role as Rayon, a transgender AIDS victim. His appearance will startle you more than once as he seems more cheekbones and hips than anything else: but where his body lacks, his acting is of huge substance. Rayon befriends the homophobic Woodroof and in it we begin to see a truly touching friendship form.
 
The film is heavy hitting in it’s deep evaluation of the subject matter. Aside from demonstrations such as ‘Rent’, ‘Philadelphia’ or perhaps even ‘Precious’, we have not really seen a really deep exploration of AIDS and the social and political consequences it can have. The film itself is driven towards the way in which AIDS victims were treated both by peers, hospitals, and the FDA. Woodroof’s battle to make medicine accessible not just for himself is inspiring and within twenty minutes we find ourselves rooting for him even though his character does remain genuinely unlikeable.. We are even exposed to some arguments that are still present in modern America. Against the backdrop of the Obamacare scandal, and the everlasting ‘wealth vs health’ argument presented oh so eloquently in documentaries such as Michael Moore’s ‘Sicko’ – Dallas Buyers Club not only makes us consider the actions of the past, but also the present. The multi-faceted characters express more than one purpose but somehow all seem relevant here.
 
The standout quality of this film lies in the editing and direction. An eerie whistle fills the audience’s ears to haunt us with the repercussions of Woodroof’s disease and to fill in parts of the story that are rightfully left vague. The film plays slow, but never drops the level of tension presented. Jennifer Garner’s character Eve Saks serves as a barometer for how we should relate emotionally to these characters, but serves no other real purpose in the film but to take up screen time. Yves Belanger (Director of Photography) should be commended on his collaborative work with Director Vallee in using light and shadows to create visually stunning sequences.
 
The screenplay is well put together and the dialogue is oftentimes touching. When watching the film I was under the impression that the story was based on a magazine article (as it claims to be ‘based on true events’) so I was confused to hear that Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack were nominated by the Academy for ‘Best Original Screenplay’ rather than ‘Best Adapted’: I am sure they have their reasons.
 
All in all, one might feel that Dallas Buyers Club overreaches on it’s plea for sympathy, only to be grounded by Jared Leto’s Rayon who is the only really likable character portrayed here. When faced with Garner and McConaughey in endless sequences, it starts to feel a little forced, like too much has gone into making sure the audience is feeling appropriately compassionate. 
 
Dallas Buyers Club is a movie that is certainly worth watching, but one must remain open minded to the real message. This is a movie about respect, forgiveness, and hope. Not survival. 
 

Rating: 4/5

 

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