In "Wild," Reese Witherspoon plays a woman who decides to hike the Pacific Coast Trail (PCT) to regain her sense of self after a divorce and the death of her mother. The movie is based on the best-selling novel by Cheryl Strayed and has been generating a healthy amount of Oscar buzz for Witherspoon, Laura Dern, and directer Jean-Marc Vallée. The movie, which is rated R, opens Dec. 5 in limited release.
Here's what you need to know.
1. The film has an excellent Oscar pedigree.
Besides starring the Academy Award-winning Witherspoon, it's directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who directed Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto to Oscars in last year's "The Dallas Buyers Club." The screenplay was adapted by "About a Boy" author Nick Hornby, who was Oscar-nominated for his screenplay for "An Education."
2. You haven't seen Reese Witherspoon like this before.
Witherspoon goes topless, has anonymous sex, and does heroin in this role as a woman who loses her way after her mother's death. It's a change of pace for the actress and just may earn her a second Oscar.
3. Laura Dern is fantastic as her mother.
It's a small role, but Dern is the heart of the film as the incandescent, free-spirited mother (seen in flashbacks) who dies far too soon. Dern is also a likely Oscar nominee; she hasn't been nominated since 1992's "Rambling Rose."
4. Witherspoon is 12 years older than Strayed was.
At 38, Witherspoon is 12 years older than Strayed was when she hiked the PCT. The film also shows Cheryl at 22, which means in some scenes she's playing 16 years younger. And you have to forget that Dern is only nine years older than Witherspoon.
5. A lot has changed from the book to the film.
Among the things that have been left out are Cheryl's older sister and her stepfather. Not all the colorful characters she meets along the trail are included, naturally, and Greg, the hiker who inspires her to keep going just as she's ready to quit, sadly gets very little screen time. There's less of her relationship with druggie Joe and a troubling run-in with two creepy hunters is moved from Oregon to California. Like the book, the story goes back and forth in time as we learn why Cheryl is motivated to undertake such an arduous journey and we slowly learn what a rough childhood she had. While the film does a good job of conveying the key moments of Cheryl's life, there is, of course, a lot lost in translation. The film is good, but the book is still better.
6. You're going to lose patience with Cheryl at several points.
Strayed reveals she was nicknamed "The Queen of the PCT," but also "the Hapless Hiker" because of her lack of preparation for the epic hike and she often made decisions that easily could have been disastrous. Like Christopher McCandless in "Into the Wild" (an even more riveting wilderness true story), she often gets in over her head.
7. The hot guy from "Orphan Black" makes a sexy appearance.
Michiel Huisman, who also had a small role in Vallée's excellent "The Young Victoria," plays a guy who Cheryl hooks up with along the trail.
8. There's an incredibly upsetting scene with a horse.
Although it's more fleeting than in the book, animal lovers will want to close their eyes during a scene where Cheryl and her brother must put down her mother's elderly horse after she dies.
9. It's surprisingly funny.
Among Cheryl's odd encounters is one with a journalist who is excited to meet a "female hobo," and who continues to interview her despite the fact she keeps insisting she's not a hobo.
10. The scenery is breathtaking.
The views along the California and Oregon trail are spectacular and may just inspire you to make your own nature trek, even if you don't want to rough it to the extent that Strayed did.