Review: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty / Cert: PG / Director: Ben Stiller / Screenplay: Steve Conrad / Starring: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Sean Penn, Adam Scott, Shirley MacLaine / Release Date: Out Now
Walter Mitty works for Life, but he doesn't really have one. For 16 years Ben Stiller's Walter Mitty has toiled as a "Negative Asset Manager" for the famous magazine, wrangling photographic negatives for publication and daydreaming his life away in self-empowerment fantasies. Lately his reveries have heavily featured new hire Cheryl (Wiig), as well as the obnoxiously bearded Tim Hendricks (Scott), manager of the magazine's transition to a digital only publication. When a negative destined for the front cover of the final print issue goes missing, a picture from renowned superstar photographer Sean O'Connell that apparently captures the quintessence of human existence, Mitty has to rouse himself from his daydreams and embark on his first real adventure, to find O'Connell, the negative and, hopefully, the guts to go out with Cheryl.
Mitty's life may be dull but it's not due to any lack of direction on his part. The film slowly reveals a family tragedy in young adulthood that thrust upon him a whole world of responsibility, and pushed him into a lot of unhealthy behaviours, such as daydreaming through boring jobs. Behaviours that only now can he evaluate and possibly change. If only the film had as much direction.
Mitty is not a comedy; there are a few jokes sprinkled about but they don't carry the film. The antics of a drunken helicopter pilot, a fisherman who constantly misquotes American slang and a spoof of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button all fail to provoke many laughs. As for the gags that focus on Mitty's fish-out-of-water antics, while they seem reasonably amusing when lumped together in the trailer, they don't quite work when spaced out across an entire film.
Neither is Mitty an out and out fantasy movie. Many of the fantastical sequences (and the realistic ones) are both audacious and impressive but they can come off as Stiller trying to prove that he's able to handle more ambitious special effects films than Tropic Thunder and Zoolander. Stiller does successfully demonstrate an ability to use a wide variety of styles and types of effects throughout the film, from an uncomfortable-to-watch fight scene with sped up action and extreme close-ups, to a superhero-style street surfing/skiing sequence with an angry Stretch Armstrong doll, to a shark attack in the Atlantic, to a scene that is played out in its entirely via the point of view of a full body airport scanner, but the emotional glue to hold them all together seems to be missing.
Judging by the numerous landscape beauty shots, where the subject of the frame is dwarfed in relation to the world around it while uplifting music from Arcade Fire or Of Monster and Men plays, the goal of the film seems to be as inspiring and life-affirming as possible, but it falls a little flat in this regard. Once the location of the missing photo and its subject become obvious to the audience, two or three steps before it occurs to the characters, the nagging feeling that any one of Walter's adventures could turn out to be a daydream prevents the audience from truly engaging with him in the important later stages of the film.
The film's feel good message of living fully in each and every moment (and never to daydream while cycling a bicycle at speed) is also hindered by the glaring product placement all the way through the film. A number of fast food chains are referenced by name, with Mitty very obviously visiting a few. A prominent real world online dating site is also referred to throughout, as Mitty chats with his tech support guy over the issues caused by his completely empty dating profile. This unbalances the narrative and makes it all feel a little too mechanical to be heartwarming.
The best films about the human condition should inspire your heart to soar and while The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is enjoyable, it fails to inspire a song in the heart as much as it sets out to.
Expected Rating: 8 out of 10