Review: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
PLOT: Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) is a dreamer who yearns to escape his hum-drum existence, and fantasizes about dating his pretty Life Magazine co-worker, Cheryl (Kristen Wiig). When the print edition of Life Magazine is scuttled, and the final issues cover photo is misplaced, Mitty takes it upon himself to find the missing negative, which is in the possession of globetrotting photographer Sean OConnell (Sean Penn). Mittys quest takes him from Iceland through the Himalayas and beyond, in an adventure that- up to now- he could have only dreamed-of.
REVIEW: THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY has its origins as a short-story written by humorist James Thurber, which was turned into a big 1947 Technicolor musical starring Danny Kaye, which truthfully wasnt that closely tied to the short story that inspired it. For decades, various stars (including Jim Carrey) and studios have been trying to mount a WALTER MITTY remake, with several full-fledged Mitty scripts floating around at different times. Finally, a modern version has arrived although it would be wrong to call Ben Stillers movie a remake.
Stillers THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY is at least as different from the old forties version as that movie was from Thurbers original story. The only similarities are that the main characters name is Walter Mitty and that he daydreams. Stillers film is a real departure for him as a director, feeling more in line with his more thoughtful, earlier work like REALITY BITES, than the hilarious, twisted humor of later efforts like THE CABLE GUY, ZOOLANDER and TROPIC THUNDER.
The biggest difference between MITTY and those films is that its utterly lacking in cynicism. Even REALITY BITES- thoughtful as it was- was cynical in that patented Gen X way. This is altogether different, and is a surprisingly introspective work from such a big comedy star as Stiller. His Mitty isnt that different from his usual nebbish characters, although unlike them Mittys not really anyones victim other than his own. Hes picked on by his bearded-jerk boss (Adam Scott) but here Scott is clearly a clown. Mittys fantasies are only really important for the films first act, with the most lavish one being a loud New York battle that plays like a satire of the destruction-laden superhero fights weve seen done to death in movies like THE AVENGERS and MAN OF STEEL. Once the proper story kicks into gear and Mittys on his adventure, it becomes a quiet, surprisingly affecting travelogue more in the vein of LOCAL HERO or a more upbeat INTO THE WILD than anything else.
Its actually quite surprising what a quiet, atypical movie WALTER MITTY is for a big-budget studio comedy, but Stiller makes it work beautifully. The movie is helped enormously by gorgeous cinematography by DP Stuart Dryburgh that captures the impressive location shooting done in Iceland. The pop-soundtrack is also appealing, with music playing a big part in Mittys adventures, with David Bowies Space Oddity memorably spurring him-on at one pivotal point. Often in a road-movie like this, Mitty would be meeting a variety of off-the-wall oddball characters, and while there are a few of those (including a drunk helicopter pilot) the focus mainly stays on Mittys inner journey, and his evolution from meek dreamer to confident man of action.This is easily Stillers best role since his own TROPIC THUNDER and while his shtick was wearing thin in THE WATCH or LITTLE FOCKERS, this is a re-energized Stiller working at his best. Kristen Wiig is also appealing in a surprisingly straight-laced role as Mittys dream girl, a kind single mom looking for love on websites like e-harmony. Funnyman Patton Oswalt has a fun cameo as the e-harmony tech support agent who becomes a surprising asset to Stiller on his adventures abroad, while Sean Penn cameos as a character that seems patterned on the publics own perception of him through his work overseas.
Itll be interesting to see how the public reacts to THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY, as its probably the quietest, most introspective would-be blockbuster Ive seen in a many a year. I hope that itll be appreciated, as there is something charming about watching a movie that so proudly wears its heart on its sleeve. Check it out.
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