Reese Witherspoon Gets Oscar Attention for 'Wild' and Announces New Film with Todd Haynes

The filmed-in-Oregon feature is charming critics and audiences from Telluride to Toronto, and Witherspoon and Haynes will team up for a future Peggy Lee biopic.

By Matthew Schonfeld September 10, 2014

Laura Dern, Cheryl Strayed, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon

The critical response to Reese Witherspoon’s adaptation of Portland writer Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, Wild, is growing into an avalanche of accolades. Starting with its premiere at the Telluride Film Festival on August 29 and spreading with its screenings at fests across the continent, the film has incited a range of critics to declare that Witherspoon is back in the Oscar game with her best performance since her 2005 Oscar-winning portrayal of June Carter Cash in Walk The Line.

Forbes speculated that there's a Reese Rennaissance. Variety wrote that Wild is “a ruggedly beautiful and emotionally resonant saga of perseverance and self-discovery that represents a fine addition to the recent bumper crop of bigscreen survival stories.” US Weekly said Witherspoon is “poised for a mini-comeback (and possible Oscar consideration) with her strong, vanity-free turn as the author.” The Hollywood Reporter lauded Witherspoon’s ability to “transforms herself both physically and emotionally into this hardened yet needy young woman seeking to reinvent herself after a series of personal tragedies.”

Even Oprah turned up at the Telluride premiere for a surprise appearance, reportedly asking Strayed, “What are we going to do now?” And both Witherspoon and Strayed have documented the film’s exciting festival voyage in their Twitter and Instagram feeds—see our slide show below.

And in some of the biggest local news to come out, Witherspoon announced on September 7 in Toronto that she’ll be partnering with another Portlander: director Todd Haynes has signed on to a Peggy Lee biopic that she had been working on since 2012 with the late Nora Ephron. With Haynes' strong history directing films centered both around music and strong female leads (read our feature), can we be the first to declare this is a match made in heaven?

Witherspoon and her production company, Pacific Standard, snatched up rights to Strayed’s account of her 1,100-mile soul-searching journey up the Pacific Crest Trail before it even hit shelves in March 2012 (and well before it became a best-seller). Witherspoon brought on director Jean-Marc Vallée (then unknown, as his movie Dallas Buyer’s Club hadn’t come out), screenwriter Nick Hornby, a small crew, and a monster backpack, and trekked all over southern Oregon to film it last fall.

The project has been a collaborative effort between Witherspoon and Strayed since its conception, with both attempting to work outside the confines of studios and major production companies. “I developed it with my own money and an incredible producing partner, and then we went to the studios afterwards,” Witherspoon told Vulture last month, “because I did not want to hear, ‘we don’t want to see Reese doing that.’”

Wild, set to hit theaters nationally on December 5, will be the second official release associated with Witherspoon’s freshly minted production company, co-owned by producer Bruna Papandrea. It will arrive on the heels of Gone Girl, a film based on a 2012 novel of the same name by Gillian Flynn, starring Ben Affleck and opening October 3.

“When my producing partner and I started our company, we had a purpose: We wanted to bring forward more female characters in film and have more interesting, dynamic parts for women,” Witherspoon said in her Vulture interview. Looking to younger female writers like Lena Dunham (Girls) and Gillian Robespierre (Obvious Child) for inspiration, Witherspoon worked to portray an unabashed, flawed, and utterly genuine Strayed—complete with debaucherous drug abuse and promiscuous sexcapades.

In August, Strayed told the Oregonian that she was overwhelmed with emotion once she saw her life on screen, crying from the opening credits to the end. "I highly recommend having a movie of your life made. I also highly recommend having Reese Witherspoon play you,” Strayed assured (something she will discuss at an upcoming Think and Drink on October 23—advance tickets are sold out, but some will be available at the door).  “Reese as Cheryl Strayed—she feels like a sister to me. That's a powerful bond. I will love her forever."

Witherspoon's and Strayed's Wild Journey
on Twitter and Instagram:

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