THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY
Director: Ben Stiller
Starring: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Adam Scott, Shirley MacLaine, Kathryn Hahn, Sean Penn
The imagination can do wondrous things. It can take us to adventurous places, brighten our days, and give us the confidence to battle any tough situation. For Walter Mitty (Stiller), daydreaming is the norm. Whether he is fighting his boss, saving a dog’s life, or trying to impress his dream girl Cheryl Melhoff (Wiig), his imagination takes him to numerous heights. Outside of that, he leads a very normal and traditional life. He assists his mother (MacLaine) with moving into a new apartment. His sister Odessa (Hahn) is a little kooky and relies on him for more than she ought to.
He takes great pride his work in the negative assets department for Life Magazine only to find out the company is ending it’s magazine publications and switching to an online format. Walter’s boss Ted (Scott) is your average scumbag of a boss who really has no interest in his employees or the work. Hopefully you can get passed his douchey facial hair which is so fake looking but makes complete sense for the character. Famed photographer Sean O’Connell (Penn) sends frame 25 by telegraph to Walter to be used as the final cover image. When Walter opens the package of frames, frame 25 seems to be missing from the set. From the advice of Cheryl, Walter decides to use the other frames as clues to track down the whereabouts of the elusive and enigmatic photographer to find that final frame. His daydreaming finally becomes a reality as his real life adventure begins.
If you have read any of the background on the film, you may know that it has been stuck in “development hell” for years with various studios, directors, and actors attached to it. It is a remake of the 1947 film of the same name which was based on the short story by James Thurber. I am glad it finally got in the right hands as Ben Stiller has successfully brought Walter Mitty back to life again. The film crosses various genres as there is some comedy, adventure, drama, and even a little romance thrown in there. I think finding the right tone is the key to making this film work. It is not a screwball comedy like Zoolander or some of Stiller’s other work. I do not think I would consider the film a comedy, but there are some humorous moments which are a bit more genuine for both Stiller and Wiig. They leave their silly characters of the past behind and just play their scenes together in a truthful and honest way. There are so many sweet and tender moments between the two of them that I would not mind seeing a stripped down romantic comedy with the two of them as the leads. I wish the characters MacLaine and Hahn play as his mother and sister would have been a bit more fleshed out. There are both great actresses, so they seem a bit under used here. The mother character plays a vital part in the story but has only been given a couple of scenes to develop that.
For a story that relies heavily on the photography of the Sean Penn character, Stiller makes good use out of cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh. He beautifully captures the scenic landscapes of Greenland, Iceland, and the other places Walter ventures to on his journey to find Sean. You know the cinematography is stellar when various shots look like photos themselves. I found myself repeatedly soaking up these glorious images and missing some of the actual dialogue.
I have a seen quite a few movies recently with heavy topics and such deplorable characters. While I love a good character study in which those provide, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is that refreshing change of pace I needed. I, for one, am known to get caught daydreaming so I am right there with Walter Mitty. I am not about to go into what goes on in my head so don’t ask. It is not always as adventurous as Walter’s inner monologues and storylines. There is something inspirational about watching Walter’s daydreams shift into reality as he goes from living his everyday somewhat boring life and watching him take that leap and literally jump onto that helicopter. While that may not be quite practical for everyone in their normal day to day routine, I am sure you can find a way to start off small and go from there.
RATING: **** (4 out of 5 stars)