A Walk in the Woods

Have you read any of the humorous travel books by Bill Bryson ("Notes From a Small Island" and "I'm a Stranger Here Myself")? In this one, when he "hikes the Appalachian Trail," he really DOES hike the Appalachian Trail (apologies to former South Carolina Governor Sanford). Yup. It's a "Road Trip" comedy where we watch an ill-matched duo try to cope with the hazards and inconveniences of being on the road together.

Director Ken Kwapis ("The Office" and "He's Just Not That Into You"), working with a screenplay based on Bryson's book, centers his movie on the ex-pat writer who has moved back home with his English family. This setup delivers a witty, satisfying, R-rated (language) dramedy for people of a certain age. For me, it generates a whole new respect for authentic actors who resist the siren song of plastic surgery; it's nice to see real people on screen.

We appreciate:
  • Robert Redford ("All is Lost") Bill Bryson has returned to the U.S. after almost two decades in Europe. Watch his tongue-tied reaction to that rude talk-show host! Confronted by signs of aging (ailing friends, funerals, doctor visits), he longs for a new adventure, so he decides to hike the celebrated Appalachian Trail, which passes near his home town. He can't find any friends who share his enthusiasm.
  • Emma Thompson ("Saving Mr. Banks") Catherine is adamantly opposed to her husband's idea. Her reasons include his age, some well-publicized bear attacks, potential injuries...the list goes on and on. Ultimately he goes, so she says, "Try not to die!"
  • Nick Nolte ("Warrior") Hard-drinking alcoholic Stephan Katz calls because he heard of Bill's plan through a mutual friend (Katz had NOT been invited). They had been close friends years ago, but had a serious falling out.
  • Kristen Schaal (Lots of TV and voice work) Non-stop gasbag Mary Ellen is an unwelcome intruder. She provides our hapless duo with their first common goal: Ditch her!
  • Mary Steenburgen ("Last Vegas") Jeannie is the proprietor of a family-owned motel. Her lovely mother is a piece of work! I hope Bryson mailed Jeannie a check.
  • Susan McPhail ("Mississippi Grind") Beulah teaches Katz to keep his hands off a stranger's panties! Actually, her husband does...
The dialogue seems authentic: two guys reminiscing about adolescence, pranks, girls, college and other shared youthful experiences. By the time they became adults,  Bryson had a career, a wife, a family and is happily domesticated. Katz is still an unrepentant hedonist, a drunk who has seen more breasts than Bryson ever dreamed of! Bill says, "Books are television for smart people." Katz is convinced the trail is "uphill all the way to Maine."

Once we see samples of the gorgeous terrain, we understand why so many people want to hike this trail, yet only 10% actually complete it. Expect a few F-bombs and some adult humor (Katz is amused that Bill buries his own waste just off the trail, "In the WOODS?!?").

Here in Seattle, residents of a nearby retirement community were treated to this advance screening. It was perfect for them and they had a great time! Everyone will.
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Here is a preview:
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