Richard Lutz trawls through this week’s movies on the box to find the gems.
They say – and I’m really not sure who ‘they’ actually are – that there are only seven stories encased in all the movies that make up our film lives. One has to be The Journey and the other is Twisting Time. This week on that magical 44 inch flatscreen in the corner of your room, both get an outing.
Wild (Thursday, Film4, 21.00) is your classic tale of the journey internal chronicled through A Big Trip. Reese Witherspoon puts on her hiking boots as she recreates a real life 1,100 walk down the Pacific Crest Trail through California. The story is taken from the memoir of Cheryl Strayed (love the name…) who tromped the arduous trail through desert and over mountains to expunge the wreckage of her life.
Witherspoon was nominated for an Oscar. She deserved it. And director Jean Paul Vallee (Dallas Buyers Club) caught the travails and joys of a 94 day walk not only in the raw beauty of the terrain but also in vivid flashbacks that, with a fine score, explains how the trip helped Strayed overcome a rollout of personal disasters.
His big problem, despite a sharp script by English writer Nick Hornby, is a movie about a long walk is…well…damn dull after a couple of blisters, a bunch of sunsets and a snowstorm or two. But Vallee successfully builds a poignant backstory about Strayed’s straying past life that punctuates the walkie bits and helps a viewer understand why she is so driven to schlep away…only to (ahem, ouch) find herself.
It is also a tour de force by Witherspoon, who produced the movie, and it helped her escape the romcom lightweight treadmill she was involved in up to this point. There’s strong support too from Laura Dern (Twin Peaks, Jurassic Park, Wild at Heart) as Strayed’s mother and a strong list of minor roles who helped, hindered or even threatened her on her hike.
So, that’s The Journey.
Now for the second genre, Twisting Time, and none really comes close to the cheeky Groundhog Day (Tuesday, Sky1, 21.00). Bill Murray continually gets chucked into the same day over and over again. He does his deadpan schtick to perfection, droll, mocking and, ultimately, philosophic. And philosophic he should be as previous to this 1993 movie, he had quit the film business for a long period to study philosophy at the Sorbonne. A secret pointy head, this boy.
What makes this production, directed by Harold Ramis (Caddyshack, Analyse This), such a delight is that the Phil Connors role, played by Murray, is a thoroughly dislikable curmudgeon. But slowly you get to like him as he learns to enjoy the kinder side of life. Loadsa laughs, good back up from love interest Andie Macdowell (twee as ever) and even the late Ramis in a cameo as a doctor.
Groundhog Day makes you regain faith in a story’s ability to make you smile as day after day unrolls for Murray. And Wild is not untamed nor uncontrolled but a fine piece of storytelling that could have drowned in mawkishness if directed by a lesser hand or led by a less adept actor.