The Secret Life of Walter Mitty – Self-Discovery in the Age of Smartphone
After directing crazy and wild comedy adventures like “Zoolander” and “Tropic Thunder”, Ben Stiller is trying to establish or extend himself into new territories. That alone is very much evident in his contemporary adaptation of James Thurber’s short story, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” (2013). Spielberg and Ron Howard thought of doing this project and the main role went to Jim Carrey, Sacha Baron Cohen and Owen Wilson, but it was eventually Ben Stiller, who has played and directed the role of daydreaming man with the delusions of heroism. It’s an old-fashioned, family friendly tale (comes with a PG rating), which might not entice the standard weekend movie-goers.
Walter Miity (Ben Stiller) is at his early 40’s, whom when we first meet looks like a matured guy, balancing his checkbook with a ballpoint pen. Sooner, we learn that he is only an over-grown boy with limited social skills as he doesn’t get far with his recent crush on a new co-worker, Cheryl (Kristen Wiig). But, whenever he feels that he his manner is humorless, his alter ego plays within the mind to bring absurd moments of amusing fantasy. Later, we learn that his determined personality has stemmed from a personal tragedy. Walter has lost his father in his teenage and has ever since worked to support his mother (Shirley MacLaine) and sister (Kathryn Hahn). This routine life has trapped him so much that, he even hesitates to send an eHarmony (online dating site) wink to Cheryl.
Walter has worked in “Life” magazine for 16 years as “Negative Assets Manager.” A combination of events results the magazine to be sold out to .dot com entity, which says that the next issue will be its last one. Staffs will be cut as the hot shot executive (Adam Scott) seems to take the magazine online. A prized photo by acclaimed photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn) is all set to be the cover image for last issue. Unfortunately, Walter misses it, and is forced to embark on a journey to Greenland, Iceland, and finally to Afghanistan. This surrealistic travelogue not only takes Walter to find the photo but also to find his inner self.
The most enjoyable part of Mitty’s adventures are his daydreams, particularly the superhero-like faceoff with the boss, across midtown Manhattan, flying through the air and banging into buildings. The upbeat mood of Steven Conrad’s screenplay gives more importance to the themes of existential crisis rather than the harebrained comedy. The funny scenes are more sensible, especially the Benjamin Button style reverse-aging fantasy. Although, some of scenes, towards the end, seem to be stalling for the time, the emotional dimension feels real. The only thing which might keep “Walter Mitty” from being a crowd-pleaser is the unevenness in the script. The main character is also not fully realized, like in a Spike Jonze’s movie.
The widescreen framing along with a good blend of recent pop tunes makes the locations – from Greenland to Himalayas – look more exotic, even for a seen-it-all guy/girl. The CGI isn’t bothering and it’s commendable to note the use of visual tricks involving the way of integrating text into Walter’s environment. Apart from 90’s Tom Hanks, I think Ben Stiller is the perfect guy to play this common man-turned-adventurer role. Stiller doesn’t fully make himself the hero of the story and he isn’t hell-bent to win our admiration through his self-discovery. Kristen Wiig tones down her comedic mannerisms of “Bridesmaids” to fit into the low-key, likeable Cheryl.
“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is smarter than an average weekend and Ben Stiller fare. It may not be fantastic, but it’s still an enjoyable fantasy.