The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty Review
Posted by Terry Lewis on 12.25.2013
Ben Stiller directs and stars in a film about a man struggling to find excitement in his life whilst suffering from extraordinary day dreams. But is this a fun escape from reality? Or are we caught in a landslide of normality? 411's Terry Lewis reviews The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty!
Ben Stiller - Walter Mitty Kristen Wiig - Cheryl Melhoff Sean Penn - Sean O'Connell Adam Scott - Ted Hendricks Shirley Maclaine - Edna Mitty Kathryn Hahn - Odessa Mitty Patton Oswald - Todd
Development hell is a fair old place to be stuck in if you're a film. Take this remake of the 1947 adaptation of the short story Secret Life Of Walter Mitty. Announced in 1994 with Jim Carey to play Mitty, it bounced around between companies for the rights, rewritings and many directors including Steven Spielberg before people left the project. At one point, Owen Wilson was tapped for the lead role before another massive bout of turmoil before the production company just said “Fuck it” and placed Ben Stiller as lead and director. But what are the results?
After taking up the responsibility of man of the house during his free spirited teen years, a middle aged Walter Mitty (Stiller, The Watch) works in the photography department of Life magazine and suffers from weird zoning outs, where he imagines something spectacular over his normal, mundane life. Charged with organising the final cover, Walter finds renowned photographer Sean O'Connell's (Sean Penn, Gangster Squad) masterpiece photo missing. Encouraged by his crush Cheryl (Kristen Wiig, Anchorman 2), Walter goes outside of his comfort zone and embarks on a globe crossing journey to hunt down the missing photo.
On paper, it's a nice small cast for Walter Mitty but I can't help but think that the roles in this script were intended for other, bigger stars. I can't shake it but I just see Jennifer Aniston as the love interest and I think Patton Oswald is a funny guy but he's wouldn't be on your radar for the extended cameo he gives. Given how long this film was in pipeline for I wouldn't be surprised if it was for Jack Black. There's some inspired casting in Adam Scott (Parks And Recreation) as the dick boss/leader of the Life takeover, although you're left distracted by his beard because you spend marvelling at how terrible the fake beard is and it almost becomes an extra character in it's own right.
Thematically there's nothing new here. Essentially a tale of someone moving on with their life and doing something with it now whatever was holding them back they've got over it, it promises nothing of the sort from the trailer. I was led on a more interesting path of whether the grand zone outs Walter suffers from are all in his head or they were going to do something different and he actually does get involved in these incredible acts. They're set up nicely enough and some of his day dreams reflects a wall of Life posters but I feel Secret Life Of Walter Mitty breaks it's own rules in setting up his daydreaming.
Everytime he zones, Walt is shown to have a scrambling before and after a daydream, yet later on they don't keep it up so it's a case of “oh is he or isn't he?” except they break their own rule by not throwing it in still quite early on in the film. By the breakage, it's a bit hard to keep up with knowing the kind of film they're going for, as did prefer to see something different. Emotionally satisfying your story is Walter Mitty but original it is not and your peacocking as something else didn't go unnoticed in a messy show. There's a statement made on the digitisation of newspaper/magazine publishing perhaps a couple of years too late to be original but it has a look at Life becoming online only, which wouldn't fly as the film expects you to believe that a paid subscription journal like Life could sack all, yes ALL, of it's support staff and be fine. That would be fine, except that subplot isn't exactly wrapped up.
The most enjoyable aspect is Stiller's direction. Walter Mitty is not exactly a pretty film to look, but it's easy on the eye enough. It's just a nice watch. Everything is shot well enough and some of the effects are awesome in the daydream sequences although you wish they did something a bit fantastical with Walt's dreams. Still the overall feeling is light and carefree. The comedy is kept to the background with a human interest tale at the forefront however there's some greatly timed lines from Stiller. Wiig actually isn't given a lot to do as the love interest, despite her comedic talents, and she's bit dull as the standard single mom. In fact, the love story between Cheryl and Walter is a bit weak and almost stalkerish. Walt only wants to join a Pof/EHarmony-esque site just to flirt with Cheryl and freely admits that yet noone bats an eyelid.
Don't get me wrong, there is a charm here. Walter's story is genuinely engaging and you do feel for the guy after his past and you do want him to experience some glorious things. Thing is, he does... and then... well that's it. He just casually says what he does and some characters don't even bat an eyelid. Maybe it's part of a personality but if I had just climbed the wrong side of the Himalayas through Afghanistan to speak to a photographer, saw some snow leopards in the wild and played soccer at the highest altitude the sport has ever been played, I would be telling everyone I know about it whether they want to hear or not. Walter Mitty does deliver on making a man who hasn't lived live but it doesn't handle his reaction to it well.
The 411: I still feel a bit hurt from what I thought would be a different film and I'm a bit stuck with that more interesting idea in my head but The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty is not a bad watch. There are some nice setpieces and I did enjoy a comforting feel throughout. However, it doesn't work structurally in places and just like the light, breezy, uplifting atmosphere, you may find Walter Mitty is a bit too much like a balloon in the same situation – the slightest sharp tug of reality on the string and it floats away from your memory. Perhaps it would have been better left in development hell.