Back in July I predicted that the (then) up and coming divorce fantasy movie Wild would not have the kind of success Eat Pray Love had back in 2010. A good divorce fantasy needs to show the divorcée ending up with a better man, and it needs to provide moral cover for divorce by showing that divorce makes a woman a better person. Eat Pray Love and Fireproof are the secular and Christian gold standards for this genre, and both of those movies deliver.
Based on the trailer, it appeared to me that Wild would not deliver these core elements. I haven’t seen the movie, but from the reviews I’ve read my initial take appears to be born out. Leah Finnegan at Gawker wrote in Wild Is a Bad Movie and Reese Witherspoon Is Bad In It:
Will Reese Witherspoon win an Oscar for “Wild” because she overcomes the hardship of wearing a really heavy backpack for most of the film? I sure as hell hope not, but she probably will, because Hollywood is stupid. In any case, this movie was awful, and terrible for women. Wild was by far the worst movie I saw this year—and I saw Heaven Is For Real.
The problem is the main character comes across as ugly and the message of divorce leading to redemption falls apart:
Witherspoon is a sniveling, Flickian, narcissistic bitch, and therefore this so-called story of redemption—Woman Goes on 1,000-Mile Hike to Cleanse Herself of Sins and Find Herself—comes across not as real or raw or uplifting but just another tale of easy blonde triumph.
Finnegan makes it clear that she is a big fan of Eat Pray Love, so this can’t be a critique of the genre. Even worse for the movie, the comments on Finnegan’s review at Gawker were overwhelmingly in agreement with her. The reviews at IMDB don’t look any better.
Overall Wild grossed $37,339,313 during the first 12 weeks of its release (actually 13 weeks, including $47,248 for “week 0”). In comparison, Eat Pray Love grossed over twice that amount, bringing in $80,574,010 during its first 12 weeks. If we adjust the EPL gross into 2015 dollars*, the mismatch is slightly larger with EPL grossing an inflation adjusted $86,214,191**.
Given the reviews and the box office figures, the moral should be clear for moviemakers looking to cash in on modern women’s shameless obsession with divorce. Make sure your divorce empowerment movie provides plenty of moral cover for women blowing up their families; show divorce as the catalyst for the woman becoming a better and more holy person. Likewise, be sure to clearly show the woman profiting from blowing up her family in the form of lifetime commitment from a better man than her ex husband. Follow these two simple rules and you have a license to print money. Get one or both of these wrong and your divorce empowerment movie will fail.
*Adjusting for inflation, one dollar in 2010 bought as much as $1.07 buys in 2015.
**Here are the weekly inflation adjusted figures in chart form.