Day Dreaming: A Film Review of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

The_Secret_Life_of_Walter_Mitty_1274874Sweet, ambitious, charming and interesting are probably the best ways to describe director (and actor) Ben Stiller’s newest addition to the holiday season film barrage The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Based on a short story written by James Thurber in 1939, this new adaptation adds a modern twist to the tale and, unfortunately at times, gets just as lost in it’s own imagination as the main character does.

Following the character of the film’s title, Walter Mitty is an introverted, hard-working everyman looking for what everyone trapped in their own existence is looking for … something more. Whether it be love, adventures never taken or words never spoken, Walter is a man held down by the would ofs and could ofs of his existence. And, like all heroes, when a opportunity presents itself, Walter has to figure out if he can be the man he’s always dreamed about or just the guy who everyone thinks he is.

As an overall film, Walter Mitty is drop dead gorgeous and Stiller has much to be proud of. In its unique scope, the cinematography and score make it feel like an independent film while at the same time, present the audience with a large scale backdrop of action sequences, foreign landscapes and an art direction that is wonderful to watch come together. The blandness of Walter’s routine is contrasted so well against real life that the film grows from a greyish blue palette to a beautiful organic rainbow of experience.

At the same time, I don’t think Stiller and his co-star, Kristen Wiig, will get enough credit this year for their excellent, patient and nuanced performances. Known mainly for their goofiness, both performers give one hell of an effort and both succeed greatly. Wiig is truly a hilarious and brave comic, and while she is talented at making people laugh, here she quickly stole my heart as she lit up the screen with her own brand of nervousness, uncertainty and sweetness. Along with that, Stiller brings something exceptional to the character of Walter and walks a very thin line throughout the film that keeps him grounded, intelligent and someone to care about. Not an easy task when, at times, the character could have been simply disregarded as a high functioning crazy man with regular bouts of hallucinations/delusions.

It is also worth pointing out that there are two supporting characters that, while having limited screen time, truly add a dynamic weight to the story and round it out beautifully. Shirley Maclaine and Sean Penn each share a special relationship with the lead character and both earn every second they are featured on screen. Excellent.

In terms of the story, Walter’s adventure is an unbalanced detective story that, while odd, really makes for a fun ride. It’s hard to say how much time actually passes while Walter is on his quest, but, the experiences had and the people met keep the interest level high, and while clearly we expect our hero to rise to the occasion, the path never makes Walter seem more than what he is – and I greatly appreciate that. Thanks so a solid back story married with quality screen time, Walter is able to express himself in realistic terms and thus, his development as a character seems more genuine, honest and believable.With that being said, the film is by no means perfect. Lost in it’s own self awareness, Walter’s day dreams, while interesting at first, quickly dissolve into stream of conscious strangeness, becoming glaring distractions that made it difficult for me, at times, to take the film seriously. There are two sequences, in particular, that seemed like direct challenges to my ability to stay focused and, unfortunately, by the time they were over, I found just asking myself – “what the hell?” Stiller does so well developing and presenting Walter as a tangible, believable, honest individual and sadly, the over-the-top bloating of his imagination make you question his sanity. Of course, not all the day dreams are like this. In comparison, there is a wonderful sequence where he imagines Wiig singing to him for a distinct purpose and it fits perfectly into the narrative and development of the character’s purpose. Clearly, not all day dreams could fit this perfectly but it’s worth pointing out the simplest of all the sequences is also the most effective and the most noteworthy.

Overall, I really enjoyed this film. While at times flawed, Stiller needs and should be commended for what he has accomplished with this film – both in terms of acting and directing. Good pacing, solid cinematography and a pair of leads who it give it their all make up for any and all of this films shortcomings. For an extremely charming, fun experience at the theaters this holiday season, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a perfect way to experience something new.

4 out 5 Cell phones with amazing long distance reception

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