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Fourteen-year-old Mackenzie is sent to live with her uncle in Juneau when her mother can’t care for her anymore. The living situation quickly takes a turn for the worse, and she runs away to rejoin her mother in Seattle. While on her dangerous journey of sleeping in cars and breaking into hotel rooms, she’s drawn to Rene, a lonesome backpacker looking for tranquility in the wilderness.

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Wildlike movie full length review - Soulful "Wildlike"

The big winner of the festival (15th Annual Phoenix Film Festival) was Frank Hall Green's "Wildlike".

Winner of Best Acting Ensemble, Best Screenplay and Best Picture which pulled out all the stops in its breathtaking Alaskan beauty and subtle emotional impact. Ella Purnell plays Mackenzie, a troubled teen who is sent by her struggling mother to live with her uncle in Juneau, Alaska. Unfortunately, Uncle is on the creepy side and is not above manhandling his underage niece. First chance she gets, Mackenzie runs away and attempts to head back to Seattle.

We see MacKenzie making bad decisions, stumbling through awkward situations, and eventually meeting up with an older man who's wife passed away a year before. Bruce Greenwood delivers a gentle and earthy performance as Rene Bartlett, the man determined to travel alone through an area of Alaska that he and his wife were suppose to trek through. MacKenzie finally finds someone she can place trust in, but it is not an easy union.

Some may consider Rene to be the father figure that Mackenzie has been searching for, but he could easily be just a decent enough human being that Mackenzie needs in her life. Although, it's not an easy pairing since the man resists having so much emotional baggage even though he does care for her well-being. Their journey through the Alaskan wild and how they connect on so many emotional levels is a trip worth taking. Frank Hall Green somehow not only captures the intimacy of his two explorers, but also of the wilderness itself. Quiet moments are so nuanced that one cannot help reflect on the wonders of both human nature and nature itself.

Ella Purnell demonstrates a natural ability to convey strength and vulnerability all at once. She can be both spunky and timid, and we believe her every step of the way. The one thing I could not get over was her striking resemblance to actress Reese Witherspoon, and how both have now done films with wildlife settings around the same time period.

Green gives us an absorbing look into this troubled teen, the men in her life all the while providing something much more than just a travelogue. He incorporates the John Ford techniques, showing us how small we really are compared to everything going on around us, but then brings us back with an intimacy that keeps us well in touch with those we care about. "Wildlike" is a gorgeous film that touches our heart and soul.

This review is taken in part from my article, "Highlights from the Phoenix Film Festival" from The Movie Guys.