A reserved and quiet individual who resorts to daydreaming and fantasies to feel any sort of self fulfilled satisfaction is thrust into the most extreme of circumstances, which forces them to break from their self-deluded existence. The result? The revelation of their true self-worth. My review of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty after the jump.
Walter Mitty (Stiller) works for Life Magazine as a negative processor, one who processes film stock, which then in turn results in photos being developed. Now days this profession is almost unheard of, as computers upload and configure almost all photographs. Walter is still one who works and associates himself with film as does the magazine’s greatest asset, photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn). His one interest lies in speaking to Cheryl (Kristen Wiig), the intelligent and beautiful co-worker a few floors above. Every daydream and fantasy he has operates around the notion of him winning her heart and attention, which of course, isn’t quite how it goes once he snaps out of it. As communicating with Cheryl seems all the more impossible and the daydreaming becomes all the more frequent, Life magazine’s next and possibly last issue is dependent on the final cover, an image O’Connell insists is one of the greatest photos he’s ever taken. Of course, Walter can’t find said image, so what ensues is an adventure to find him and the remaining frame missing from his stock. For Walter Mitty, nothing of his subdued existence will remain once he makes the leap to explore the world that teases him day-to-day.
Ben Stiller is renowned as an actor and comedian, sure. His track record as an actor is more than inconsistent in terms of quality, but Stiller, despite being incredibly funny, has his greatest ability lie in feature film directing. From Tropic Thunder to The Cable Guy to Reality Bites, the man knows how to stage a large, grandiose set piece, being well aware of character and tone with each spectacle driven moment that he’s in charge of directing. The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty just may be his very best directorial effort yet. But as always, let me explain. It looks incredibly lavish and beyond expensive, the heartfelt tale of one’s quest to find their true self, some would argue, shouldn’t look so incredibly pristine and grandiose. Herein lies Stiller’s gift, for Walter Mitty goes to prove that, yes, in some circumstances, it can.
The character of Mitty works for Life magazine, one dedicated to capturing the most grandiose and lavish aspects of well, life that one would not normally encounter outside their very window. He also processes film, which, although digital being as advanced as it is now, is still not as precise, meticulous and elaborate with an image as film is. Life in the eyes of Mitty is elaborate and vivid. If his adventures weren’t equally as such, then the lesson and revelation which requires far less spectacle wouldn’t resonate as well as it does for our shy yes determined protagonist. Stiller has shot Mitty on 35mm film, making each moment more beautiful than the last. Yet, not a single, grand event in the film is missing a smile and a heartbeat.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is one of the sweetest films of the year, almost every frame is exciting as it is quiet and ultimately genuine. Not a single moment of its 114 minute running time rings false. Films with much less struggle as such. We believe in Walter, we want him to be with Cheryl, and for Cheryl to be with him. They’re both intelligent individuals who we like and care for. The film’s far more intelligent to rely on stereotypical objects of desire to drive character progression. Performances, across the board are all wonderful with a special mention going out to Patton Oswalt in a role that, well, you’ll see.
Stiller knows heart, he knows humour and he knows what makes big cinema going experiences exciting and fun (don’t let the trailer fool you, it still has some signature Stiller humour, slapstick and all) and he’s one of the best director’s this generation’s got. Credit is also due to Steve Conrad who adapted the screenplay from the original 1947 film, still maintains an affection for analog over a digital/spoon-fed era we live in.
In a year of sometimes soulless endeavours shot on digital, this film goes direct to the source of what makes anything great, something that exists with a genuine thought and feeling of what it’s trying to say. Walter Mitty, Ben Stiller and their secret life do just that.
By Chris Elena
Director: Ben Stiller
Writer(s): Steve Conrad
Starring: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Shirley MacLaine, Sean Penn, Patton Oswalt, Kathryn Hann, Adam Scott
Runtime: 114 minutes
Release Dare(s): Australia & New Zealand: December 26, 2013; USA: December 25, 2013