Writer: Steve Conrad
Cast: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Sean Penn, Shirley MacLaine, Patton Oswalt, Adam Scott
Running time: 114mins
The lowdown: Unabashedly sentimental and brimming with the joys of real life, Ben Stiller’s fifth directorial outing jumps off the screen – without the aid of 3D. A triumph of imagination and a cry to grab the world by the collar, it might be too heart-on-sleeve for some but with the wonder on display here it’s a tough nut who has not cracked by the moving final moments. It’s a wonderful life indeed…
The full verdict: Loosely based on James Thurber’s 1939 two-page story, Stiller’s Walter Mitty is a satire on homogenized CGI-heavy fantasy and celebration of the little man in a corporate world.
As played by Stiller, Walter is a wistful drone working for Life magazine, managing photo negatives in a dark basement and daydreaming himself into action movie style adventures.
Walter pines for colleague Cheryl (Wiig), but his life is upturned when new (evilly bearded) management announces Life is going digital, with job losses likely. When Walter misplaces a negative intended for the final front cover he has two choices – find it or get tossed on the scrapheap.
Inspired by Cheryl (particularly in a fantasy sequence rendition of David Bowie’s Space Oddity), Mitty embarks on a journey to obtain another negative from the legendary photographer who snapped the elusive picture (Penn, serious as ever).
As with Tropic Thunder, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is glossy and handsome-looking, but this time Stiller dispenses with the in-jokes and transplants a large-sized heart.
Likeably dull and compromising his teenage dreams for security and stability, there’s a little Walter in most of us, making his journey through Greenland to the peaks of the Himalayas a wake-up call to see the world.
As Walter shifts from white-collar dweeb to piercing blue-eyed skateboarding, goatee-sporting traveler (with an Arcade Fire soundtrack) the movie risks accusations of being a vanity project from an A-List middle-ager.
But, it works due to Mitty’s likeability and the sight of a life being lived (without too much CGI-augmentation) and a nice line in self-deprecation – particularly in a Benjamin Button fantasy sequence poking fun at the two films’ similarities.
Real life company logos abound, but seem more a commentary on modern life than a way to pay for Stiller’s world trip, while Patton Oswalt’s e-Harmony support operator and Shirley MacLaine as Walter’s mum act as a Greek chorus on Mitty’s transformation.
Hitchcock said movies are real life with the boring bits taken out, which perfectly sums up The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.