The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

2014-01-17 12:47

Marketed as Ben Stiller's bend toward drama, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty finds the actor, who also directed the feature, seemingly exuding super-human strength while jumping between buildings and battling his nemesis as they surf asphalt.

The lampoon-like scenarios seem far too fanciful when attempting to take Stiller seriously. But these are just the narratives the title character weaves in his mind. In reality, Walter Mitty, played by a poised and sincere Stiller, is an insecure photo editor with an affinity for daydreaming.

Adapted from a short story of the same name, which was written by James Thurber and was published in 1939 in The New Yorker, the outlandish scenes in Mitty bring the most memorable element of the original tale — reality bending — to the forefront. Thurber's sarcastic narrative found Walter Mitty at odds with his bickering wife and escaping his humdrum life by daydreaming he was a war hero, surgeon and sharp shooter. The first rendering of Mitty, which maintained Thurber's comedic tone, was realised on film in 1947. It starred Danny Kaye, who this time, battled with an overbearing mother.

Written by Steven Conrad, the contemporary rendition, in which Jim Carey was originally supposed to star, sees the real world altered with such wild inflection that it's hard to digest. Visual techniques like interspersing the text of the opening credits into Walter's surroundings, prove to be the most innovative and clever effect of the picture. Luckily, the CGI-marred moments flood only the first 30 minutes of the film, allowing for a loaded, inspiring experience familiar to other serious Conrad works like The Pursuit of Happyness.

In the new Mitty, Stiller's Walter works at Life magazine, which is transitioning from print to digital. A brilliantly vexing Adam Scott plays Ted Hendricks, the ringleader of a band of executives who've come to supervise the completion of the last issue and fire a large chunk of the magazine's staff.

In this take, the women aren't nags. Shirley MacLaine, who plays Stiller's mother, Edna, and Kathryn Hahn, who plays his sister, Odessa, are quite pleasant and supportive. It's Ted who acts as the villain. He takes to bullying Walter, who must pin down the negative image for the final issue's cover. Walter consistently spaces out, especially when he's fantasizing about his co-worker, Cheryl (played sweetly by Kristen Wiig).

Unable to locate the image, which was shot by a long-standing Life magazine photographer, Sean O'Connell (an explorer superbly pronounced by Sean Penn), Walter heads to Greenland where he hopes to find Sean and his coveted shot. Once there, Walter jumps out of a helicopter only to be nearly eaten by a shark when landing in the ocean. It's such a heart-pounding experience that even Walter wonders if what he just endured was real. But, alas, Walter's finally having actual adventures, as his capacity for taking risks increases.

In the midst of more action — Walter skateboards down a hill in Iceland and escapes an erupting volcano — he receives recurring calls from an eHarmony customer service rep (a facetious Patton Oswalt), who is determined to help Walter make his dull online dating profile more appealing.

As we watch Walter's world open up, we follow his journey across alluring locations like the Himalayas. When we finally meet Sean, who is perched on a mountain waiting for the perfect shot, he speaks to Walter's evolution as he tells him he sometimes prefers to savour his personal moments instead of being distracted by his camera.

Stop dreaming. Start living.
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Johan 2014/01/08 4:19 PM
  • Rating:
I was interested in this film as it is based on a short story by James Thurber, an author I ha recently been introduced to. The author had interesting ideas and most of his work had been regarded as unfilmable. Master directors, Ron Howard and Steven Spielberg, once considered attempting to make this film. When they left the project, Ben Stiller, stepped up to the plate in the hope of doing the source material justice. One of the major stumble blocks is trying to update it source material to modern times. It is unfortunate that a film that seemed to have so much promise falls flat. There is not much of a story to this film and it feels like a airline commercial at times (think the recent Turkish Airlines commercial or the India commercial) specifically for Greenland and Iceland. It has beautiful scenery but no story to back it up. The acting in this film is divided, you have absolutely stellar performances (Sean Penn) and you have abysmal performances (Adam Scott as the most irritating character ever conceived). The stellar performances however are so short in duration that it does not justify paying full price for this film. It is not a film that I would recommend watching.
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