ADVENTURE; 1hr 55min

STARRING: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski

Leap of faith: Witherspoon

Why would anyone with zero backpacking experience choose to trek the 1,100 gruelling miles of northwest America’s Pacific Crest Trail all by herself, weighed down, turtleshell-style, by an 18kg behemoth?


In 1995, 26-year-old Cheryl Strayed (Witherspoon) makes that leap into a landscape so immense it seems nobody could touch it. Her goal, unfolded in artful flashbacks by Dallas Buyers Club director Jean-Marc Vallée and An Education screenwriter Nick Hornby, is to “walk myself back” to the woman she was before the cancer death of her mother, Bobbi (Dern), crushed her into a heroin-glazed promiscuity that wrecked her marriage (to Sadoski’s Paul). Too many losses have blocked Cheryl’s path and she’s now intent on clearing it.


Witherspoon, who loved and optioned Cheryl’s 2012 memoir, attacks its flayed physicality as a passion project. Since recreating such a punishing quest for self-worth takes a courage akin to actually living it, her investment in the experience is absolute. And worth every pain-wracked, soul-cleansing step, in life and on film. For as Cheryl understands in the end: “What if all those things I did were the things that got me here?”