Walter (Ben Stiller) is a Life Magazine employee who lives just as much, if not more, in his head as outside of it in this (second) adaptation of James Thurber‘s short story.
When Life comes under new management, taking the publication off the printed page and into cyberspace, there are two things on everyone’s minds. The first is, who is going to keep their jobs, and the second is, what amazing photograph will make it onto the cover of the final issue of this iconic publication. Despite being a daydreamer who imagines adventures he thinks he can never have, Walter Mitty seems to have pretty good job security. After all, he has been there for many years handling the negatives of all the published photographs. Not only that, he is also personally given a spectacular photo to use for the front cover by famed eccentric photojournalist, Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn). The problem is, he can’t find it.
Using clues from seemingly pointless photos from the same roll as the missing masterpiece, Walter embarks on a journey he never would have believed himself to be capable of in search of missing negative #25. In what must be her most normal role yet, Kristen Wiig appears as Walters female interest. Adam Scott is brilliant as the cocky new boss, and Patton Oswalt shows up in a role he’s perfectly suited to play as well.
For a while, this film and Stiller were both getting a lot of positive buzz, with the word “Oscar” getting thrown around a few months ago. Does it live up to those expectations? Not quite.
It starts out strong, with brilliant cinematography and highly imaginative displays of Walter’s daydreams – a big selling point for the trailers. Once the film picks up speed though, it loses some of the oomph along the way. As Walter embarks on his life changing adventure, his life changes in a meaningful way for him, but not so much for the audience as it drifts dangerously far from the unique flavor of the first third nearly into generic feel good territory.
This is in no way a bad film. In fact it’s pretty good, and parts of it are wonderful. It just stops feeling special after a while as Walter begins to leave his daydreams behind in favor of the real thing. This is, of course, sort of the whole point of the movie, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t less interesting than how it began. A little bit of joy is sucked out of the audience as all the things that make the beginning of the film so engaging are mostly left in the dust in favor of coming to a meaningful conclusion a little too soon.
It is still very much worth watching as a feel good story with heart, comedy, and imagination. It’s some of Stiller’s better work, and with just a little adjustment it could have been great. As it is, it’s just pretty good.
Mrs. Hamster says:
“I actually didn’t hate Ben Stiller in this.’
My rating: Three out of five hats
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty traverses 2,909 theaters December 25