I'm a fan of travel writer Bill Bryson and many years ago, I read his book, A Walk in the Woods. Although I only have the faintest recollection of the book ( it was published in 1998), I was interested in seeing the film adaptation.
PLOT- American travel writer, Bill Bryson (Robert Redford) is experiencing a life crisis. When a British journalist asks him why he has not written about his own country, he does a little soul searching and decides to hike the Appalachian Trail. If he completes it, he will hike 2180 miles, through fourteen states and it will take him several months. His wife, Catherine (Emma Thompson), insists that he brings a friend for safety. The only friend that responds, is Stephen Katz ( Nick Nolte), whom Bryson has not seen in many years. Katz is overweight, out of shape and may still have a drinking problem, but he is a willing participant.
LIKE- A Walk in the Woods, is a movie that my mom would have liked. By this, I mean a few things...First, the theatre was full, but we were the only audience members under the age of sixty. It definitely appeals to an older audience. Second, this is a story filled with gentle comedy. It's a buddy film with a sweetness that many movies lack. Sure, it's occasionally a tad saccharine, but I could forgive those moments, because my overriding impression was that this is a feel good movie. Personally, I think the world could use more "feel good" movies.
In the film adaptation, they changed the age of the characters, which creates a different dynamic. Bryson and Katz were in their mid-forties during their hike, but Redford and Nolte are in their seventies. This age change, shifted the theme of the story from a mid-life crisis, to a golden year crisis. It upped the stakes in the movie version, as Bryson now sees this hike as something he must finish soon. One of the key early scenes in the film, is Bryson attending a funeral for a friend. Aging the characters, gives more urgency and weight to Bryson's goals. It changed the story, but for the better.
Redford and Nolte are well cast and keep the movie entertaining. They play an odd-couple, with Redford's Bryson the logical, responsible friend and Nolte's Katz, the unpredictable, wildcard. The funniest scenes were when the duo encounter an obnoxious, know-it-all, hiker played by Kristen Schaal. Schaal manages to steal the scenes from the veteran actors.
DISLIKE - I thought that it was odd that they didn't really show the physical effects of their long hike. They mention blisters, but in Cheryl Strayed's Wild ( both the memoir and film adaptation), much is made about the physical toll the hike took on Strayed's body. In A Walk in the Woods, they hardly seem to be affected by this enormous undertaking. There are not experienced hikers or fit guys. They make it seem pretty easy, which it couldn't have been. This unrealistic element really nagged at me.
The pacing was uneven, and although it's only 104 minutes, it felt long.
RECOMMEND- This is a great rental, especially if you want a light-hearted, buddy film with a small dose of introspection. The scenery is stunning, but not stunning enough to rush to see it on the big screen. A good, but not great film.