Soundtracking is a regular column that appears on looking at the music featured in the biggest new releases both in theatre and on home video. Shane McNeil speaks to author and screenwriter Nick Hornby about the role of music in Jean-Marc Valle’s Wild.

Originally published on – December 2, 2014.

Reese Witherspoon heads off on her own with nothing but the music in her head this month in Wild.

Wild is the latest offering from Canada’s Jean-Marc Vallee, who has made a comfortable nest of late getting top-flight work from Hollywood talents looking to re-establish their artistic currency. Last year, of course, he got his big break – as far as the U.S. is concerned – with Dallas Buyers Club.

While that film broke with Vallee’s tradition in Canadian films of drenching every available second with soundtrack, it did have a musical current running throughout.

The trailer for Wild broke this fall – scored magnificently by the song “Turn Away” from Beck’s stellar 2014 album “Morning Phase” – hinting at a possible return to his traditional musical tendencies.

Unfortunately, Wild is closer to the musical style of Dallas Buyers Club than the sprawling soundtracks of C.R.A.Z.Y. and Café de Flore. However, the film gets a hand from another musically-obsessed talent in screenwriter Nick Hornby.

Hornby, of course, is the author behind such musically infused adaptations as High Fidelity and About a Boy. But, in tackling the music of Wild – adapted from Cheryl Strayed’s autobiography of same name.

The songs that come to dominate the soundtrack are the songs that get wedged in Cheryl’s head, and as a result the audience is exposed to whatever should come out of her head in the middle of hiking.

During a Toronto International Film Festival screening of Wild, Hornby told Cineplex that the musical choices mimicked that theme intentionally.

“There’s a spiritual dimension to the music,” Hornby said, “but it’s also that idea of being cut off from everything and going out with [just] the contents of your head and a lot of that would be songs, of course.”

And so, Simon and Garfunkel come to the forefront with the spirituality of a track like “El Candor Pasa (If I Could)” as well as their longing classic “Homeward Bound”.

Signing the ledger at mile markers along her hike, Strayed leaves pearls of wisdom from select writers, once landing on Joni Mitchell and wondering: “Will you take me as I am?”

Strayed’s own experiences do come into play as Hornby credited the book for giving him ideas on what to include, stating that it was a collaborative effort going beyond the book, with some aspects coming from him, some from Vallee.

“I think it divided down the middle in that I put some stuff in the script – things that Reese sings where it’s sourced in the movie – is mine and that the soundtrack music is [Jean-]Marc’s,” he said.

“We kind of used it that way, so there’s a Bruce Springsteen song that was mine and “Homeward Bound” was mine, but that became more of a Simon and Garfunkel theme. So, we mixed it up.”

That Springsteen selection provides one of the film’s more clever moments, as Strayed marches on her epic way humming the aptly-titled 1987 cut “Tougher Than the Rest” before declaring, “Sing it, Bruce!” The song typifies what Hornby and Vallee are able to achieve throughout Wild; a soundtrack that on the surface appears sparse, but always lines up directly with Strayed’s state of mind.

So… sing it, Bruce.

The official soundtrack release expanded upon the film’s highlights, revealing the depths of Hornby and Vallee’s background choices, including The Hollies, Portishead, Leonard Cohen, Lucinda Williams and more.

As a bonus treat, have a listen to the soundtrack offering from one of my personal favourite acts at the moment, Swedish folk duo First Aid Kit.