TIFF: Jean-Marc Vallée says ‘Wild’ is a tribute to late mother

Jean-Marc Vallee, pictured in March 2014. Jason Merritt / Getty Images

TORONTO – Montreal director Jean-Marc Vallée says his acclaimed new film Wild, based on Cheryl Strayed’s bestselling memoir, is a tribute to his late mother.

Like the ever-positive ailing matriarch played by Laura Dern in the drama, which is at the Toronto International Film Festival, Vallee says his mother was also strong and uplifting even while battling cancer.

“I lost my mom of cancer three years ago, so of course I related to the material,” he said in an interview. “I was crying like a baby when I read the book and I said, ‘Yeah, I’m going to make this film and really pay tribute to my mom and to this kind of female strong character.'”

Star/producer Reese Witherspoon is stirring up early Oscar buzz for her role as Strayed, who tries to flee her reckless and drug-addled past through a soul-searching and arduous hike spanning 1,600 kilometres along the Pacific Crest Trail. Guiding her through her journey are the memories of her late mother, Bobbi (Dern), who always had a sunny disposition and encouraged her to try to find her “best self.”

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Nick Hornby wrote the big-screen adaptation that was critically lauded when it made its world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival just over a week ago.

“My mom was a Bobbi,” said Vallée, “always so positive and annoying me with her ‘rich in love’ and ‘you can do it,’ ‘don’t worry, life is well-made and God is there for you and life will take care of you.’

“These strong women who devote their lives to their children and just loving their children and forgetting about themselves, and their mission on this Earth became, ‘I’m going to be there for them.’ It’s rare that you see a man in that position. It comes mostly from a woman, from mothers, therefore from women. I mean, there are some fathers, yeah, it’s strong. I’m a father.

“But there’s something about the connection with the mother.”

Vallée said the film is also an ode to women like Strayed.

“What a character. … Here’s a film about a woman where she doesn’t define herself through the eyes of a man, she’s not with a rich man, she has nothing. At the end of the film she has 20 cents in her pocket, no job, no house, no apartment, no man, no relationship, no parents, and it’s a beautiful ending.”

Vallée was just at the Toronto film festival last year with Dallas Buyers Club, which went on to receive six Oscar nominations, including a nod for best picture. It won three, including best actor for Matthew McConaughey.

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His next project is Demolition with Jake Gyllenhaal and Naomi Watts. He said he then plans to shoot another film next September, followed by a French feature and then a French-Canadian project in Montreal.

“I’ve got the next four years lined up,” said Vallee, whose other films include The Young Victoria, C.R.A.Z.Y. and Cafe de Flore.

“I’m doing indie films, I’m not doing the Hollywood big thing. I’m picky in my choice — choosing your film is choosing your lifestyle. You’ve got to wake up and be happy.

“I haven’t made all the right choices before in my life, but now I think I’m choosing wisely.”

The Toronto International Film Festival runs through Sept. 14.

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