A Walk in the Woods doesn’t sound like a promising title for a movie, at least for those unfamiliar with the Bill Bryson book on which the flick is based. Once you know that you’ll be watching a couple of senior citizens attempting to conquer the more than 2,000-mile Appalachian Trail, you might expect that you’re in for some laughs. You are.
Robert Redford, still vestigially handsome at 79, stars as Bryson, who seems to be having something of a mid-life crisis, assuming he will live to be a ripe, old 158 before he expires. A barely recognizable Nick Nolte, 74, plays Stephen Katz, the long-lost travel buddy Bryson had hoped to never see again.
Struggling with the growing perception that he is reaching the endgame of his life, Bryson decides that he is going to hike the trail, which stretches from Georgia to Maine, a daunting endeavor for a physically fit 20-something. That detail is immediately noted by his wife, Cathy (Emma Thompson), who is vehemently not OK with the plan.
Cathy attempts to dissuade her husband. As part of her campaign of discouragement, she provides a collection of newspaper stories describing the gruesome fates that other Appalachian Trail hikers have suffered. Being killed and eaten by bears is among them.
Bryson remains resolute. Cathy eventually relents, on the condition that her husband, whose life she still values, cannot undertake the journey alone. She is fairly certain that Bryson will not find any takers for his insane proposition among his more rational friends and acquaintances.
She is right — until Katz, who was not even on Bryson’s long list of candidates, learns of the plan and volunteers his companionship. With no other options available, Bryson reluctantly accepts.
After the first quarter-mile, both men are huffing and puffing, possibly even seeing their lives flashing before them. Their fortunes quickly go downhill, and uphill, and downhill from there. The Appalachians are not quite the Rockies, but they do qualify as mountains, especially to pedestrians.
Anyone who goes to see this film expecting a deep look at the meaning of life or an inspiring tale of victory in the face of overwhelming odds may be disappointed. It’s a comedy. However, the humor found in it is highly age-dependent.
For those of the Baby Boomer generation, which includes my wife, Mary, myself and just about everyone else in the theater who saw the film with us, the antics of Bryson and Katz are hilarious. We laughed frequently — at times until we were out of breath. We saw ourselves in the characters and in the give-and-take between the Brysons.
Younger filmgoers will not be able to make this connection, and some of the humor may fall flat. Still, if you happen to find the trials and tribulations of your elders funny, you may like the movie.
Shame on you. You should be out there hiking the Appalachian Trail — while you’re still able.