Granger on Movies: ‘A Walk in the Woods’
Published 3:29 pm, Friday, September 18, 2015
Westport News film critic Susan Granger reviews the new movie, “A Walk in the Woods.”
Remember Reese Witherspoon in “Wild” last year? As Cheryl Strayed, she hiked the Pacific Coast Trail to exorcise her demons and re-discover herself. Now, Robert Redford, as travel writer Bill Bryson, tackles the Appalachian Trail to escape encroaching ennui.
This comedic drama begins in New Hampshire, where Bryson is determined to test his mettle, setting his sights on the daunting 2,180-mile trek, stretching from Georgia to Maine, while his sensible British wife, Catherine (Emma Thompson), insists he have a traveling companion.
After canvassing his circle of friends, Bryson gets stuck with an old Iowa frenemy, disreputable Stephen Katz (Nick Nolte), a recovering, unrepentant alcoholic who is determined to join him. The engaging rapport and cinematic camaraderie of these mismatched septuagenarians propel the gentle plot.
When Katz asks how he knows so much about trees, Bryson says, “From books. Books are TV for smart people.” To which Katz replies: “I don’t get bogged down in minutiae; I’m above the details.”
Their wanderlust includes encounters with fellow hikers, like obnoxious Mary Ellen (Kristen Schaal), and an overnight interlude at a trailside motel, where the genial proprietor (Mary Steenburgen) eyes Bryson and Katz’s laundromat flirtation incites a jealous husband’s wrath. Plus, two hungry grizzly bears ...
Based on Bill Bryson’s lighthearted, observational memoir of the same name, it’s adapted by Rick Kerb and Bill Holderman, and drolly directed by Ken Kwapis (“He Said, She Said,” “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants”).
While the contemplative story trudges occasionally, emphasizing the frailty and fragility that comes with age, Redford easily fits into the erudite writer’s curious, intellectual persona, contrasting with shaggy, lumbering Nick Nolte.
Redford optioned Bryson’s book in 1998 as a project for him and Paul Newman, and there’s an amusing cinematic reference to “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kind” as they’re trapped on a ledge. This is the second film to co-star Redford and Nolte; they were in “The Company You Keep” (2012).
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “A Walk in the Woods” is a sensitive, scenic 7, an amiable amble.