Film Review – The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Ben Stiller has long been regarded as one of the funniest men in Hollywood. Often overlooked with his enormous comedic success is that he has a fairly diverse and well rounded background of projects. Despite working in creative and challenging projects such as Reality Bites and Greenberg, Stiller probably will always be known for his wacky antics from films such as Meet the Parents and Zoolander, and justifiably so since he did such a good job. But underneath that comedic façade is a talented multi-skilled entertainer who is a risk taker and might have just taken on his most ambitious project, one that just might help change everyone’s expectations of him. With his latest work as both the director and star in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Stiller goes a long way towards helping to re-imagine his work as both an actor and director. The results are enjoyable, if a bit unremarkable, but the significance of the movie goes far beyond just what is seen on the screen.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is the story of an ordinary man, Walter Mitty (Stiller), with an extraordinary imagination. He lives in a dream world, far from his reality as a photo negative archivist for Life magazine, imagining all sorts of adventures that allow him to catch the attention of his co-worker/girl of his dreams Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig). When a negative problem comes up, Walter is forced into a real adventure, hunting down his idol, photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn).
As a film, I found The Secret Life of Walter Mitty to be a bit slow paced and predictable. I definitely am one of those grinches who complains about the flow of movies, and while this one definitely felt strung out a bit, it wasn’t a deal breaker. As a trade-off for the pace, the movie really capitalizes on the many locations utilized during the movie with beautiful cinematography as it travels all around the world. Similarly, while the story of the movie is a tad predictable, the message behind the movie is quite heartfelt, something that we tend to take for granted in our cynical world these days.
As a director Stiller has put together a fairly impressive track record of success (ignoring The Cable Guy which has its own place in infamy for many reasons). The Secret Life of Walter Mitty definitely feels like a big test forward for him in terms of risk and challenge as he ventures pretty far away from his previous work. Not only does he seem to embrace the challenge, but he thrives from it. I’m not certain about the commercial viability of this movie, but visually it is his best work yet, and it is risky and complex emotionally. Stiller did an impressive job of blending together a wide variety of cinematic styles within the movie as each of the day-dream vignettes are quite unique. It is as much of a demo reel as it is a self-contained movie. Stiller’s acting compliments his work as a director perfectly, an ability he has shown he is very adept at in the past (Zoolander, Tropic Thunder). Here he does a great job of creating an everyman caught in his grand dreams, something incredibly relatable for most people. There are moments of humor, but those are often the least interesting moments of the character.
Beyond Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig shines in the movie. She too is tasked with playing an assortment of characters, and in addition to be equally as funny as Stiller, she also has a knack for dramatic work. The way she is able to effortlessly capture her characters is amazing, and while she won’t be winning any Academy Awards this year, she has the talent of someone who probably should one day. She is in that Melissa Leo camp of actresses who just seem to embody the characters they are playing, and it is hard to tell where the character ends and the actress begins. Hopefully she continues to capitalize on her dramatic ability, and perhaps this might give her a platform to showcase her wide range of skills. Beyond the two leads, the film benefits greatly from nice subtle performances by Sean Penn, Adam Scott and Shirley MacLaine – who all have small roles but each are essentially in their own way in driving the plot forward.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is not a perfect movie. It probably won’t be listed among many top 10 lists in a competitive year like this one has been. But there is a soul to the film that is quite enjoyable and a craftsmanship to the production that probably will be a strong calling card for Ben Stiller going forward. It might not be the best film of the year, but it is the perfect kind of film for a Christmas release and probably will be a pleaser for the whole family.