Misogyny, deviations from novel drag ‘Walk in the Woods’

I firmly hold the opinion that it’s perfectly all right for movie adaptations of books to change some things around.

Books aren’t movies, after all. Something that works in text might not work onscreen. A literal adaptation of any novel with no edits would probably be exceedingly long, as well.

Having said all of that, the film version of “A Walk in the Woods” turns a pleasant, non-fiction travel memoir into a bumbling, bromantic buddy comedy that only works in fits and starts.

Robert Redford plays Bill Bryson, a popular travel writer who gets fed up with getting old and watching all of his acquaintances die. Instead of waiting for the next round of checkups and diagnoses, Bryson decides to hike the Appalachian Trail, which stretches more than 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine.

The only person he can convince to go with him is Stephen Katz, a crotchety, recovering alcoholic Bryson backpacked around Europe with several decades prior.

Nick Nolte’s performance as Katz is easily the most recommendable part of “A Walk in the Woods.” He’s a crude, vulgar old dude with a rasp so intense he could star in anti-smoking PSAs, and Nolte may as well have been born for the role.

Redford, meanwhile, ably delivers Bryson’s dry witticisms, though he occasionally comes across as a bit detached. That’s odd because this movie has been a passion project for Redford for several years.

Put simply, “A Walk in the Woods” mostly falls apart because of its attitude toward most everything Bryson and Katz encounter in their journey, most notably the women.

I can’t pretend the novel is perfect in this regard, but the movie takes whatever misogynistic elements were present in the original work and amplifies them to the point that it’s actively difficult to enjoy for long stretches of time.

Almost every woman exists as either an annoying hindrance to their journey or an object of gross sexual desire for Katz. There’s even a lengthy sequence where a woman is repeatedly fat-shamed for good measure.

Bryson’s original novel definitely has a snide, sarcastic tone to its narration, but I don’t remember it being nearly this mean-spirited. It’s a shame because all of that garbage punctuates enjoyable scenes, such as one where our incompetent protagonists somehow manage to fend off a couple of bears in their campground.

When “A Walk in the Woods” isn’t being insulting to a huge portion of its audience, it’s largely inoffensive and even amusing at times. It sacrifices any sort of meaningful impact to get there, but hey, that’s OK sometimes.

However, it ditches the more contemplative nature of the novel and replaces a great deal of it with unfunny, sexist nonsense.

Read the book. Avoid the movie.