We just passed Labor Day weekend, but you really know it's fall when film festival season kicks into high gear. In the last week, we've had the premieres of Oscar wannabes like Wild and The Imitation Game at Telluride and Birdman and The Humbling at Venice, and with the Toronto and New York film festivals on the horizon, soon we'll have a good grasp on most of the major contenders looking to capture critical attention as we exit summer blockbuster season. So what's the buzz so far?
Jean-Marc Vallee's (Dallas Buyers Club) adaptation of Cheryl Strayed's memoir starring Reese Witherspoon has unsurprisingly attracted strong praise for its performers, particularly Witherspoon and Laura Dern and general thumbs-ups, with caveats, for the movie itself. Following Strayed as she hikes the Pacific Crest Trail alone following a divorce and the death of her mother, Wild could repeat Dallas Buyers Club's double-Oscar win for acting, says the Hollywood Reporter's Stephen Farber. "Witherspoon transforms herself both physically and emotionally into this hardened yet needy young woman seeking to reinvent herself" and is "matched by Dern," he adds.
Justin Chang of Variety said the film "should be admiringly received by critics and arthouse audiences" upon its December release, although he criticized the more nakedly emotional material, particularly the death of Strayed's mother, for being portrayed in a "calculated," somewhat manipulative manner. Still, he called Witherspoon's work "intensely committed," saying it "represents easily her most affecting and substantial work in the nine years since Walk the Line," for which she won an Oscar. Eric Kohn of IndieWire said Wild was "two solid movies at odds with each other: a gentle ode to the wonders of the natural world and a more traditional account of a nervous breakdown," but noted that Witherspoon excels despite the tonal mismatch.