Welcome to the Secret Life of Walter Mitty; where sharks can be fought off with just a brief case as a line of defense and you can trek the Himalayas without an ounce of prior training in mountain climbing. Is Secret Life the most realistic story told in cinema? Nope. Does it suffer many plot holes that, if exposed, would probably ruin the whole momentum of the story? Yep. Is it a beautifully shot movie that does its job in that it evokes inspiration and probes your imagination? Absolutely. Walter Mitty has gotten a lot of flak from critics for being too ambitious and simply all over the place but I actually found myself very impressed with Stiller’s work, both as an actor and the director. The cinematography is beautiful, Stiller’s performance is refreshing from his usual goofball characters, and the story, although quite unrealistic, was upbeat and fun. Through all of its faults, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is endearing, sweet, and showed a side of Stiller that I never would have thought he had.
Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) has been working at Life magazine as the manager of negatives for years now. We get a sense that Walter has been living through the same boring routine every day for just as long, if not longer. The movie starts with a contemplating Walter who is struggling over whether or not to send a “wink” to his crush, Cheryl (Kristin Wiig), over eHarmony. He finally decides to complete that fateful mouse click, only to have the site’s technical difficulties prevent it going through. This is the most excitement that Walter gets during his usual day it seems, unless you count the numerous fantasies that play through his head throughout the day. When a negative that is supposed to be the last cover of Life goes missing, Walter seizes it as an opportunity to do more with his life and to actually abide by the motto of the company that he works for by turning his dreams into reality.
In James Thurber’s short story, Walter Mitty is a man who escapes his mundane life and harping wife through eccentric day dreams. Stiller’s adaptation is quite different in that he turns his “zoning out” tendency into reality when he finds himself traveling all over the place to search for the missing negative that is supposed to be the last cover photo of Life magazine. Although this does branch away from the short story written in 1939, I liked that aspect of the film. This was definitely one of the most beautifully shot movies of the year. Props to cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh for capturing the breathtaking views of the Himalayas, Iceland, and Greenland and creating some serious eye candy images for the viewer’s visual pleasure. This of course only adds to the adventurous and inspiring tone of the movie but obviously a movie needs more than amazing cinematography in order to elevate itself as more than just a travel documentary and this is sadly where the film seems to lack.
As mentioned before, the film suffers from plot holes concerned with the very conflict of the story; the missing negative. Yes, if any normal person who worked in the negative department of a magazine got a roll with a missing negative, they would probably just straight up tell their employer that the negative was not there and then try to contact the photographer (who would need at least a phone number and address to be employed at any sort of publication) to see if they have misplaced it. And yes, the actual location of the missing negative is blaringly obvious to most people who can just put two and two together but Stiller is not asking the audience to get lost in his realism. Stiller is actually asking the audience to stretch their imaginations, think outside of the box, and not rely so heavily on logic. After all, that is the point of the movie. Everything that we as people do has to have some sort of logical explanation or reasoning behind it. We don’t take random trips to Greenland because the logical thing to do is not spend so much money and disrupt our working lives. So going in to watch Walter Mitty, I highly advise you keep an open mind and leave all logical thinking at the door!
However, I will admit that that reasoning is not an excuse for everything that could be considered a flaw in this film. Adam Scott, who plays the antagonist of the film, is almost cartoonish in his ways, especially when you take into account the oddly fake beard (Yes, it’s bad). He is an ass just to be an ass and is a character we have all seen before. I suppose he is only a representation of the corporate and work-obsessed society in which we live, but Stiller’s unsubtlety makes for a very bland trope. I enjoy Kristin Wiig in almost everything that she is in and she is lovely as ever in Walter Mitty. However, her character also suffers from massive blandness. She is sweet and we can understand Walter’s infatuation with her, but sadly, she is just more plainness in a story that is supposed to be full of extraordinary adventure.
I think people, or just critics, are too harsh on this movie. No it’s not a masterpiece in filmmaking or anything but it definitely abides by the motto that lines every one of its posters; Stop dreaming, start living. I thought it featured a wonderful side of Stiller that we don’t get to see so often and reminded me that he can be serious and also sweet when he wants to be. I loved that Stiller took Thurber’s short story one step further by building off the theme that we need to be more conscious of creating our lives and not just thinking or daydreaming about it. It is a visually fantastic movie with some really humorous moments (Yes, I thought the Benjamin Button scene was outright hilarious although also very strange). So if you go into this movie expecting realism and accuracy, you will be disappointed. But that is not what this movie is about. I can forgive Walter Mitty for all of its miniscule flaws that would otherwise bother me because of the simple premise that this movie is really about taking fantasy and embracing it in our realities.