“Wild”

“Wild” is full of bromides like “Find your best self and hold on to it” and “Put yourself in Beauty’s way-sunrise & sunset every day”. Yet, Jean-Marc Vallee,the Canadian director of “The Dallas Buyers Club, makes us care about Sheryl Strayed, whose memoir makes the big screen.

Reese Witherspoon is grand and brings a depth of character that is a pleasant surprise. Her sins, her fortitude, her bruises, her losses and her neglects are mostly in flashbacks as she treks 1,100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. She registers her name on the trail’s log, often quoting Adrienne Rich, Flannery O’Conner, Emily Dickinson and many of my favs here and in her journal. Sheryl is a seeker,a feminist,who changes Joni Mitchell’s lyrics from, “Will you take me as I am?” To “will I take me as I am?” Ultimately, she needs to forgive herself and as she states: “walk myself back to the woman my mother thought I was”.

And her mother, the incredible Laura Dern is worthy of an Oscar,too. In a few short scenes, we see her forty-five years from dancing with her daughter, taking knuckle punches,breathing in scents & sense to cancer and cornea donation. Bobbi Gray is lauded as noble yet her quest is to make her daughter more sophisticated than she is seems silly in its self-effacement.  Yet,I was deeply touched when Sheryl swallowed a mouthful of her mother’s ashes.

There are lots of grunts & groans from beginning to end. We learn a little about Monster bag packing and tricks like burning book pages read to lighten the load. Pruning an insane backpack plays second to pruning a history of promiscuity & heroin abuse ,and this unloading plays  as an interesting metaphor. Licking the condensation from a tent wall and meeting unseemly hikers are balanced with the kindness of strangers and the humor of the “Hobo Times” reporter.

I was disappointed in the cinematography of Yves Belanger. I was expecting more magnificent scenery of a postcard variety. The brooks were nice,but not jaw dropping. The forest take with the “Red River Valley” song missed vistas where they were needed for maximum emotional effect.I cared about Sheryl, but grieved for Bobbi and wanted her to channel that mother love ,unconditional and true, to the next generation without proxy.

“Whiplash”

“Whiplash” is a great film. Its title takes a Hank Levy piece and gives it nuances that build and build. The cacophony that results is mesmerizing. The audience is whiplashed emotionally,our protagonist drummer is whiplashed physically, and ambition and pride whiplash each other and take grandstanding to new heights. A morality tale this could be . With the good father, Paul Reiner, as guide. But the acting belongs to the master manipulator, J.K. Simmons, who is resplendent with the devil’s whiplashing tongue. Ms. Jean Brodie move over:Terrence Fletcher is here! Teacher power is given a new tempo,and it is perfectly frightening in its spite-fullness.

The “teacher-director-manager” is a pusher of a narcotic called fame for ” the best mf…ing solo the world has ever heard.”He is shown three times as being capable of tenderness: once to the small daughter of a former student,once playing at a piano bar where the music moves him,and once tearing up at a suicide he no doubt helped to bring on. These three renouncements of evil may be the Devil’s Judas’ story!

Big questions like ” What is greatness?” “Why are collegiality & cooperation so important?”, and ” Why is the balance of work & leisure so key to mental health?” are the queries in the wings,while “Clean the blood off my drum set” is the line that will be remembered.”What are the bigger things to pursue in life ?”may be the most exacting question,yet. This film is much more than the abused’ s relationship to the abuser.

The dad deserves applause. He states that age gives perspective,but youth wants none of that. He is concerned and pro-active. He uses understatements like, “You care a lot about his opinion”. He does not wish his son to be an out- of -tune nineteen year old. He hurts when Andrew falls. His favorite question is ,”You okay?”. Dad does not concur that Charlie Parker became ” bird” because a cymbal was thrown at his head.

This film explodes! The brazen pride and raw ambition to be the best just takes over. The music is glorious. Heart-throbbing drums . The images pop. The lights in the windows,the self- scourging, the cleaning of instruments,the dripping sweat,the bloody drum skin,the intentional verbal emotional distress like “no wonder your mommy ran out on you “, linger.

Miles Teller & J.K. Simmons should be nominated for dueling Oscars. This film is close to perfect.
Do not miss it !