Frank Hall Green’s Wildlike is, in a word, unremarkable. The kind of film which has wholeheartedly all been done before—and done better, for that matter—it’s by no means an egregious feature, but it nevertheless seems a waste of its established cast and magnificent Alaskan backdrops.
Sixteen-year-old Mackenzie (Ella Purnell) finds herself sent to The Last Frontier by her mother to live with her uncle (Brian Geraghty). As he grows an all-too-close relationship with her niece, the young adult runs away only to find herself in the company of hiking widow Rene Bartlett (Bruce Greenwood), who prefers to go under the name Bart and also prefers this little girl leaves him alone as he continues on his spiritual quest. After some tricking and deceiving, the mismatched pair explores the Alaskan interior together by foot.
Comically, Wildlike does often come across as a YA version of last year’s Wild. Purnell’s character and her journey and enlightenment through her travels harkens back to the Reese Witherspoon-starring feature, only with far less maturity and nuance in her character’s part. This hints at the root of Green’s film trouble. It never establishes itself by its own terms, only by those that came before. All the story tropes are familiar, and those that aren’t come across as the screenplay’s third-draft attempts to get some edge. It all takes away from the film’s hard-wrought attempts to stir emotions, and makes for a fairly mundane and disengaging viewing.
That said, breathtaking cinematography from Hillary Spera gives Wildlike a rugged but posh visual style, while original music from Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans help keep the traveling spirit of Green’s feature alive. Also, of course, with a cast that includes Greenwood, Geraghty, Ann Dowd and a deleted Joshua Leonard, the performances all around are accomplished and diligently handled. Greenwood, in particular, gives a nicely restrained and nuanced portrayal, as he plays well into the sympathy of his character but isn’t afraid to examine what emotions may harken inside his part.
His genuine performance—which oddly resemblances, in appearance and mannerisms, the work of late from Robert Redford, who recently starred in his own hiking picture, A Walk in the Woods—helps Green’s flimsy screenplay carry some weight. He brings gravitas where there was none before, and helps to make his blooming, near father-daughter relationship with Purnell feel earned. And even though she gets an all-too-short amount of screen time, not mention an abrupt goodbye, Dowd provides the same care and consideration to her role.
Green, in turn, isn’t a necessarily discernible director. Rather, he seems merely inexperienced. He showcases a talent thus far for mild moments of raw energy, and these ultimately give Wildlike some grace and assurance. Alas, his writing all-so-often relies on tired story structure clichés and unearned attempts at emotions, which the performers at hand can’t salve enough to make their overall film work.
To the filmmaker’s credit, Wildlike is a considerate and detained film. There’s some nice attention to scenery and atmosphere, and a genuine effort through to prove context, even if these attempts seem beyond the director’s current threshold. Perhaps in time Green can polish these talents and make a film that’s, at the very least, memorable in its efforts. His third feature is ultimately a fairly mediocre one, and one that’s not expected to make much of any impact on me once I finish up this review. It’s not an embarrassment by any means for anyone involved, but to have to find reasons to defend for an Alaskan Interiors-based tale starring Greenwood and Dowd is quite disappointing.