A Walk in the Woods: Movie Review

Hiking the Appalachian Trail has long been on my life to-do list. Having read Bill Bryson’s 1998 memoir A Walk in the Woods long ago—it was recommended to me after I read his memoir on Australia, In a Sunburned Country, which I read following their 2000 Summer Olympics—I can’t recall if I had added the hike to my list before or after. Bryson’s (and his hiking buddy Stephen Katz’s) struggles, though, did make me wonder if hiking the AT end-to-end was a realistic goal.

A few years ago, I read Cheryl Strayed’s long hike on the Pacific Crest Trail in Wild (then watched Reese Witherspoon’s portrayal in the movie adaptation), I was once again reminded of A Walk in the Woods. Did I have to stick with the AT for my bucket list, or could I expand my long hike options? I was pleasantly surprised recently to learn that Bryson’s classic also received the Hollywood treatment.

The film is funny—so funny, in fact, I missed several lines of dialogue

In true Bryson style, the film is funny—so funny, in fact, I missed several lines of dialogue because of the long, loud laughter from the theatre crowd. For me, one of the more memorable scenes from the book was the shopping scene in which Bryson learns about the complexities of hiking and camping gear, mostly, I think, because I have felt just like him when confronted with technical specs of gear at MEC. Happily, a brief depiction of that scene made it into the film, with Parks and Recreation’s Nick Offerman as the knowledgeable salesperson. Other characters were more caricaturized than the book: both Bryson (Robert Redford) and Katz (Nick Nolte) were more loveable; Mary Ellen (Kristen Schaal), a companion they meet along the way, was even more unlovable. While some of the scene transitions felt choppy, the humour really carried the film.

After the movie ended and the theatre lights came up, I wondered how many in the audience—which was skewed towards the older ages—were inspired to hike the trail. Bryson was in his 40s when he hiked the AT; in the movie, the characters were even older. I don’t have to rush to cross it off just yet. Hiking the AT remains on my to-do list.

A Walk in the Woods will be released 2 September 2015 (USA)/18 September 2015 (UK).