Producer-star Reese Witherspoon kicks out the jams in Wild. She's a live wire as Cheryl Strayed, a sleep-around heroin dabbler who, in 1995, found a unique way to deal with her painful lack of self-esteem and the death of her mother (a wonderfully funny and touching Laura Dern): hike the Pacific Crest Trail by herself for 1,100 miles. It's a showstopping performance from an actress who keeps springing surprises. Mercifully, Witherspoon sucks at selling candy-assed platitudes about the triumph of the human spirit. With the help of a scrappy script by Nick Hornby (About a Boy) that allows bursts of humor to break through the darkness, Witherspoon cuts to the bruised core of Cheryl's heart, rattling between desperation and determination. Under the keen-eyed direction of Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club), Wild emerges as an exciting, elemental adventure that takes you places you don't see coming.