Thursday, December 26, 2013

Review: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox.
It's taken several decades to bring James Thurber's short story "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" to the big screen. For a film about a character who spends much of his time concocting elaborate fantasies, Ben Stiller's film is a somewhat muted affair.

That's not to say that it's bad - it's a little overly whimsical and some of the fantasy sequences, especially the one with the not-so-great CGI where he jumps through a window to save a cat, could have been little better thought out. Regardless, it's not a film without its charms.

For those who haven't read the short story - and, for those, I ask: what the hell were you doing in middle school? - Mitty is a schlub who spends most of his waking hours daydreaming his days away, coming up with fantasies far more preferable than his average life.

The story of "Mitty" has been completely revamped. In this film, Walter works in the photo department of Life Magazine, which is in the midst of publishing one last print edition before going exclusively online. He is harassed by his new jerk of a boss (Adam Scott), who has been brought on board for the transition team. Walter pines for newly hired Cheryl (Kristen Wiig), who has a young son. And he has a doting mother (Shirley MacLaine), to whom he should listen more closely.

Upon discovering that the cover shot for the print edition has gone missing, Walter attempts to throw caution to the wind and try to track down the elusive photographer Sean O'Connell (Sean Penn in an amusing cameo), who is in Iceland one moment and Afghanistan the next. You may not be surprised to hear that Walter learns to give precedence to life's actual adventures during his journey, rather than those in his head.

Stiller is an able director - "The Cable Guy" is much better than you might remember, "Reality Bites" was a decent Gen X dramedy and "Tropic Thunder," while a bit overdone, had more than a few truly funny moments. But the problem with "Walter Mitty" is in the way it attempts to tow the line of comedy and drama, resulting in a movie that only produces laughs or resonates intermittently. As I said before, it's not a bad picture, but not exactly what you'd expect from a film that has taken so many years to bring to fruition.

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