Who's in It:
Emile Hirsh, Vince Vaughn, Marcia Gay Harden, Hal Holbrook, William Hurt, Catherine Keener, Jena Malone, Kristen Stewart
The Basics: A young, disillusioned college graduate liquidates his bank account, tears up his Social Security card, buys a guide to edible wild plants, renames himself "Alexander Supertramp" and goes off in search of some wilderness to survive in. He winds up in Alaska and has a very difficult time with the surviving part. It's based on a true story and a book about that true story, so you can Google his fate if you like. But Sean Penn directed it. You think he's a fan of happy Hollywood endings?
What's the Deal? What's interesting is that it's being made now. If this were the '90s, I'd be much more tempted to call it a neo-hippy-hacky-sack movie about a dumb, privileged, proto-emo kid who hates his parents a little too much to have his whining taken seriously and who got all the misery he deserves. But when you see the first President Bush on TV in this film (it is actually set in the early '90s), you get that Penn is more interested in commenting on what's happening in the U.S. today and what an appropriate individual response might be in a country he probably believes has lost its way. The answer, however, is blowin' in the wind.
Who's Great: Holbrook. Maybe you don't know who he is. He's an old actor who's spent the past third of his life playing the "wise, old-folksy guy." Relieved of that burden here, he's allowed a small amount of screen time to make a huge impression as a widower that the doomed idealist kid encounters on his journey.
Who's Not: Maybe it's because I've never liked Pearl Jam, but the Eddie Vedder contributions to the song score are a pain, providing growly, obvious commentary ("blah blah, blah, I'm a lone wolf, etc.") every time one of them surges forth on the soundtrack.
The Moral: It's never a good idea to travel alone, much less with no back-up plan in case something goes wrong. I mean, yes, if you're going to Paris you can probably do that solo. But the wilderness? You need a hiking buddy, preferably one you can eat if it comes down to that.