'A Walk in the Woods': Will Bill Bryson's acclaimed memoir find a big audience?

Actors Robert Redford and Nick Nolte star in the film adaptation of Bryson's Appalachian Trail chronicle. Can the film become a mainstream hit?

Frank Masi, SMPSP/Broad Green Pictures/AP
'A Walk in the Woods' stars Robert Redford (l.) and Nick Nolte (r.).

A film version of Bill Bryson’s classic memoir “A Walk in the Woods” will soon arrive in theaters. 

“Woods” chronicles Bryson’s time hiking the Appalachian Trail with his childhood friend Stephen Katz (a pseudonym) and the movie version, which opens today, has actor Robert Redford playing Bryson and Nick Nolte playing Katz. Emma Thompson, Nick Offerman, Mary Steenburgen, and Kristen Schaal co-star. 

So far, the film has gotten negative reviews from critics, with reviewers writing that the film is “broad [and] bland… light diversion but little substance" and “a middling sitcom.”

The theme of the movie, in which Bryson decides to embark on a wilderness adventure after a frustrating time as a guest on a talk show and a general need to get away, will no doubt be a familiar one to moviegoers. Last year’s movie “Wild” told the story of writer Cheryl Strayed’s journey on the Pacific Crest Trail after she experienced personal crises, including a divorce and the death of her mother. The movie netted actress Reese Witherspoon a Best Actress Oscar nomination. Recent movies “Into the Wild,” a 2007 movie which starred Emile Hirsch as Christopher McCandless, and 2010’s “The Way,” starring Martin Sheen as a grieving father traveling a pilgrimage path, had similar plots. 

The team-up of Redford and Nolte echoes that of recent film success “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” which was released in 2012. “Marigold” stars Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, and other actors as senior citizens traveling to stay in an Indian hotel. The film became a box office hit and Hollywood, seemingly encouraged by the response to the film, released other movies bringing together older venerable actors like 2013’s “Stand Up Guys” (Christopher Walken, Al Pacino, and Alan Arkin starred) and 2013’s “Last Vegas” (starring Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, and Kevin Kline). 

As baby boomers age, the popularity of such films make sense, and of course, if a movie is good, it can attract moviegoers of all ages. It remains to be seen how “Walk” will do at the box office, but if it isn’t hurt by negative reviews, it could become another hit like “Marigold” for audiences looking for something to see at the beginning of fall besides summer holdovers like “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” and “Straight Outta Compton.”

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