Critic's Choice

'Wild' shows Witherspoon's vulnerable side

To put it bluntly, it took Cheryl Strayed wandering in the woods to get Reese Witherspoon back on track. In "Wild," based on Strayed's bestselling memoir of her punishing 1,100-mile solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, the actress discovers her deeper self much like the character she played. Witherspoon, worn down and unwashed, lets herself go, taking on the weight of a backpack dubbed "the monster," along with all the pain and the troubles of Cheryl's life, from indiscriminate sex to a heroin habit.

As her character reclaims herself one step at a time along the trail, the actress finds a new level of emotions and a new comfort with showing raw vulnerability. In "Wild," she willingly exposes her scarred body and soul. The portrait of a young woman coming to terms with life's challenges is a far cry from the actress' perky, put-together law student of "Legally Blonde." Though 2001's "Blonde" put her on the map, it is navigating tougher terrain like she faced in "Wild" that will keep her there. This week's Screen Actors Guild nomination certainly suggests she is on the right path. — Betsy Sharkey

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