The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty Reviews
The other actors are good, but not really outstanding. Kristen Wiig, as Stiller's love interest, is more than competent but it doesn't compare to her Bridesmaids role. She is light and natural: very likeable. There's also a villain, an over-the-top caricature played by Adam Scott-who was also great in Stepbrothers.
As others has stated, the cinematography is breathtaking and one of the highlights of the movie. If you've never wanted to visit Iceland prior to watching Walter Mitty, you will now. Even remote Afghanistan complete with a craggy-faced Sean Penn is appealing. Penn, by the way, owns his role as the reclusive photographer and key to Mitty's success.
One accurate adjective that describes this movie is tasteful. Stiller never stoops to sophomoric humor, and the action never takes any wrong turns. The film will seem disjointed if you're expecting a faithful version of Thurber's original story, but I wasn't. When it's over, you'll feel exhilarated and satisfied because some justice still exists. It may be a fable and probably unrealistic, but isn't this why most of us watch movies in the first place.
Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) is a man who has trouble filling out an online profile. He doesn't have too many experiences or places traveled. It may be why he frequently "zones out," as his family terms it, escaping into fantastical daydreams. In real life he works as a photography assistant for LIFE magazine, a publication that is transitioning to a digital-only existence. The enigmatic photographer Sean (Sean Penn) has sent a collection of film negatives to Walter, making special note of how Negative #25 is his life's masterpiece. However, Walter cannot find it and is having trouble getting in contact with Sean, who is overseas on assignment. Without that much-hyped negative/picture, Walter will surely be fired, and then he'll never have a chance to ask out his co-worker, Cheryl (Kristen Wiig). Walter sets out to Iceland and beyond to find the negative, stop daydreaming and finally live his life.
The very tone of the movie feels like a miscalculation. It's the story of a daydreamer, a man who retreats into his head and lives out preferable fantasies that are whimsical and far-fetched. We all knew this going into the film. It's the same as Thurber's story. The problem is that when Walter gets the courage to embrace life, his life is full of whimsical and far-fetched moments. He jumps out of a helicopter in shark-infested waters, where the sharks are ravenously active. He also hops into a car and has to outrun an oncoming ash cloud from an exploding volcano. And then in the third act, he travels across a mountain range all by himself and manages to miraculously find one guy. I don't think this approach works if his real-life adventures are on par with his whimsical fantasies. I suppose one could argue that this serves a point to make real life seem just as appealing as his mental retreats, but I think it harms the very execution of the movie. First, if there's a parallel, it means that his fantasy sequences aren't going to be too fantastic, squashing the potential of Walter's imagination. The only fantasy I enjoyed was a Man of Steel-esque brawl with a bearded Adam Scott (TV's Parks and Recreation). Secondly, it means that the serious "go get 'em" message of the movie is occurring within a medium that ordinary citizens have little connection with. Make no mistake, Walter Mitty is clearly meant as a mainstream feature meant to inspire the masses with its sentimental stripes, but is the story of a superhero doing super deeds any more relatable to the common man?
Another problem plaguing Mitty is the illusion of depth. Beyond the simplistic platitude of "get out and live your life," there really isn't much more of an idea explored here. It's not like this idea hasn't been explored in, oh, hundreds of other stories. Regardless, the film often just becomes a two-step process of Old Walter feeling timid, and then, what's this, the hip soundtrack with the likes of Arcade Fire and Of Monsters and Men starts pulsating, and Mitty boldly shifts into New Walter, the go-getter, the guy who's going to take charge of his own life. It's a strong soundtrack in all senses. This process is repeated throughout the second act of the script where most of Mitty's overseas journeys take place. Also, it may sound petty, but let's focus for a moment on the applicability of the movie's message compared to the practicality of what is onscreen. Live your life, but how many of us can afford to go globetrotting on a whim? I understand the larger canvas meant to evoke Mitty's growing sense of discovery, so I'll let it slide. The theme of Walter Mitty isn't so much developed as it is repeated. There's not enough substance here. In the end, the movie feels like 100 minutes of a soundtrack and a message in search of a better movie.
Allow me illustrate one of those "go out and live, Walt" moments in the film. Walter is in Greenland (though filmed in Iceland) and needs to get to a fishing vessel. The man next to him is a helicopter pilot. Great. But he's also drunk, so Walter understandably refuses to fly with the man. This seems like a very rationale decision, but then he fantasizes Cheryl coming through, urging him on through song (through song!), and the soundtrack starts pumping, and Walter runs out and literally jumps inside the ascending helicopter. It's meant to be portrayed as a triumphant moment of embracing the uncertainty of life's adventure, but in reality the movie just pressured its title character into getting into a flying vehicle with a drunken pilot. What? That's irresponsible.
And then there's just the lackluster characters and plotting. Walter Mitty is a nice enough guy but too milquetoast to be that appealing, relying upon the comic graces of Stiller to provide the filling. The character of Walter is basically a hodgepodge of other Stiller characters in previous movies, but the character feels too restrained for an actor of Stiller's talent. I understand that the arc has to travel from passive to active, but it feels like the funny Stiller we're all accustomed to is being held in check thanks to the film's broad appeal feel-good sentimentality. There's one brief moment of the anarchic, silly Stiller that we loved so much in Tropic Thunder, and it involves a weird fantasy where Walter suffers the reverse-aging Benjamin Button disorder. It doesn't fit at all with the tone of the film, and that's why it stands out. Walter is a nice guy but rather boring. He pins his journey of self-discovery on getting the girl, and then when presented with one minor obstacle at the start of Act Three, rather than speak with her, he assumes the worst and just gives up. The narrative requires one of those eleventh-hour misunderstandings to keep the guy and girl apart, but it's a frustrating decision that makes me like Walter less.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is also filled with blunt product placement and some strange plot elements that don't seem to blend together. I'm not generally offended by product placement in movies when they make it oblivious; hey, a character has to drink something so why not a (insert product here)? But the fact that the Walter Mitty team actually makes Water's teenage stint at Papa John's a reveal about his character, and that the very store is meant to stand in as a reminder of his own deceased father, is just wrong. Then there's the fact that Walter works as a negative corrector (analog job) at a magazine (troubled industry), and that magazine happens to be LIFE (who shuttered in 2000). Why all the analog contexts? Is it meant to convey Walter's reluctance to change or adapt? The whole notion of the magazine downsizing gives the film a real-life aspect that just doesn't feel appropriate for the movie. The fact that Walter's journey is propelled by a quest for a single missing negative feels a tad too facile for the man's transformation, but it's made worse when the answer to the location of the negative is so transparently obvious from the get-go. It was so obvious I almost talked myself out of it. Most of the supporting characters in the film serve little effect on any of the events. They're there just to provide minor details about Walter and that's it.
The movie is so earnest and you can tell Stiller is trying hard, but The Secret Life of Walter Mitty ends up being a disappointing feel-good message lacking substance and much entertainment. The filmmakers have conviction, I'll give them that, but it's misplaced, and the film's tone has too many distracting elements. The fact that real life mirrors Walter's fantasy visions seems like a miscalculation from the start. Thurber's short story didn't have that much to it to begin with but we need more than this, an office schlub learning to live his life through improbable adventures meant to inspire the rest of us common folk. As a slice of escapist entertainment, it's not fanciful enough, not creative enough, and not funny enough. As a motivational, heart-tugging ode to living one's life, it falls into too many traps to feel applicable, insightful, or engaging. It looks beautiful and the people behind the film obviously mean well, but good intentions and nice camerawork are not the same as an effective movie built from the ground up, namely the lackluster story and characters. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty feels like it has as much depth as a glossy, idealistic commercial, and perhaps for some this will suffice, but I found this Walter Mitty's secret life not worth investigating.
Nate's Grade: C
Very unlike James Thurber's pessimistic short story and Danny Kaye's 1947 adaptation, Ben Stiller's fantastic voyage is about a daydreaming, under appreciated worker bee at "LIFE" magazine who goes on a quest to find a missing photograph negative for the vaunted final cover. A trail of mysterious clues leads him on an exciting journey on which he discovers nature's majesty, long-lost soul-brothers of sorts, familial connection, a shot at romance, and a chance to prove himself as more than just another rat in the race.
The fantasy sequences are fun and thrilling, Adam Scott is appropriately douchey, Sean Penn is intimidating then playful, the settings are lush, the Scandinavian actors are captivating, Kristen Wiig is downright enchanting in her "Space Oddity" serenade, Steve Conrad's script is once again mellow but imaginative, and Ben Stiller is by turns stoic, exhilarated, and fairly badass as he longboards down to a volcano.
***MAJOR TOM SPOILERS*** (salute)
I really love the circular Ozian journey - finding out that inner strength or the object of the search was with him all along. I was afraid that the picture would remain a mystery - one of those annoyingly withholding open endings - but I'm so glad they showed it because it's beautiful and gratifying!
Amazing Film!!! To the right person, this movie is life-changing, life-affirming, and truly beautiful. No, the narrative isn't perfect. The script isn't perfect. There are narrative flaws and stretches of the imagination, but this movie is about stretching the imagination. The visuals in this film were particularly fantastic. From the New York offices of LIFE all the way to Iceland. Every scene was perfectly captured and just beautiful. Ben Stiller is perfect as Walter Mitty. His performance was exactly what I wanted. Ben Stiller's performance was so engaging, a nice break from his usual slapstick roles. If you are hoping to see him doing one of his usual humorous roles, you will be disappointed. If you want to see him capturing the emotions of a man that has a hard time expressing himself, you will love this movie. Finally, the soundtrack. Every song fit perfectly with the tone of the film. There are a few scenes that stand out as particularly wonderful, and I'm sure you'll know what I mean once you see the movie. "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" is funny and beautiful.
Ben Stiller directs and stars in THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY, James Thurber's classic story of a day-dreamer who escapes his anonymous life by disappearing into a world of fantasies filled with heroism, romance and action. When his job along with that of his co-worker (Kristen Wiig) are threatened, Walter takes action in the real world embarking on a global journey that turns into an adventure more extraordinary than anything he could have ever imagined.