It is not possible to watch the Sundance premiere of Robert Redford’s production of “A Walk in the Woods” without comparing it to its Pacific Crest Trail movie counterpart “Wild.” While Redford and his sidekick Nick Nolte (playing book author Bill Bryson and his long-lost high school buddy Stephen Katz) are far removed from Reese Witherspoon, there are important thematic connections that make “A Walk” very special in its own way.
As Director Ken Kwapis said in introducing the film last night, there are three co-stars: Redford, Nolte and the Appalachian Trail. Members of the audience I talked to marveled at the beauty, challenge and unique hiking experience of hiking the beginning in Georgia in the spring. The story line centers on Bryson as an accomplished aging travel writer looking for adventure and Katz as a grizzled, obese and human wreck prone to sexist observations about women of all ages and body sizes. Yet this mismatch of characters quickly becomes a charming and sometimes endearing account of their search for meaning in life as they trudge through the Southern Appalachians. It is a challenging journey that reveals deep personal rewards for both of them as they absorb the experience of the world’s most-famous long distance hiking trail.
“A Walk in the Woods” is a comedy that grows on you as Bryson and Katz re-connect their long-time friendship. Redford play the straight man with a philosophical dignity as he responds to Nolte’s earthy observations about life, people and hiking the Trail. As the story moves north through Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee, it grows in charm, humor and a genuine love of life and an appreciation for the 2,100 mile Trail.
There are funny moments throughout as the stars meet characters on and off the Trail. Young and highly annoying fellow thru-hiker Mary Ellen creates a classic confrontation of style with the aging duo. And my favorite moment in the book – Katz’s “date” with the very large Beulah who he meets in the laundromat as she attempts to salvage her panties from the washing machine—is truly a laugh out loud experience.
“A Walk in the Woods” will certainly appeal as did last night at Sundance to those who hike and an older audience that identify with the story and the characters. I heard numerous rave reviews after the movie. Will it also attract a younger and broader audience?