Review: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

One of the very fortunate aspects of the film form, aside from affective story-telling techniques, is the value of its aesthetic beauty. From A Good Year set in the Italian vineyards in 2006, to Leap Year set in the gorgeous greenery of Ireland in 2010, to this years ominous neon death-ground Only God Forgives, the location of a film becomes as much a character as the characters in the film themselves. Sadly, as infamous photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn) so eloquently puts it, “beautiful things don’t ask for attention”, and Ben Stiller‘s newest directorial entry is a film that begs for a lot of attention and recognition while still looking good.The more thought that goes into The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, the more and more I am mildly captivated with its endearing narrative premise and overall goal. Taking the original source material from James Thurber’s beloved short-story and some elements from Danny Kaye‘s 1947 film, director Ben Stiller does a fantastic job blending the appeal of Walter Mitty to both young people and adults alike.

“Walter Mitty” is a cherished piece of American short story literature. The term “Mittyesque” is a term that has even entered English diction. And if the definition could be used anywhere, it is without doubt, best describing Stiller‘s take on the iconic daydreamer.

Walter Mitty1

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is an endearing and scenic journey to re-discovering the power of imagination that we are all capable of having. Walter Mitty (Stiller) is a daydreaming Coordinating Director of Negative Prints at Life magazine. Mitty is quite the quiet fellow, and aside from being the infamous Sean O’Connell’s trusted confidant, Mitty also happens to have a dizzying, daze of a crush on his co-worker Cheryl (played elegantly by Kristen Wiig). Upon learning of the transition from print to web, Life magazine must downsize and begins to lay off their workers at the hands of a Layoff Manager (played by the weirdly bearded Adam Scott). Before everyone is fired from their jobs, as a last commemorative tribute to the legacy of the magazine, Life is publishing their final print issue. O’Connell, who has claimed captured the ‘quintessential’ picture of the magazine and of his career, he sends the negative to Mitty, who is unable to locate it. Mitty then decides to venture into the unknown that is the vast and colourful world. In search of O’Connell and the picture that can change the face of publication forever, Mitty conquers his greatest fears and faces the reality of the real world.

Walter Mitty is the atypical Hollywood analogy of following your dreams, seizing the moment, and admiring the everyday beauty that surrounds us all–its also quite effective as a touring commercial for Greenland and Iceland. Walter Mitty is a dreamer, without question. His daydreams allow him to zone in and out of reality, usually fantasizing about the true feelings Mitty wished he could express; over dramatized of course. Have you ever had a conversation with your boss and just wanted to push him out of the window of a tall building? Walter Mitty did. Ever wanted to know exactly what to say to the woman of your dreams? Walter Mitty does. Ever want to jump into a burning apartment building and save a dog? Walter Mitty becomes the voice inside all of our heads that encourages us to do the things we always wanted to do (except push your boss out of a window–don’t do that.)

DF-11070-Edit - Ben Stiller in THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY.

A lot of credit should be given to director Ben Stiller for his smooth and swift transition from comedy to this cute and gentle fantasy film of high imagination and appropriately light-drizzled humour. Stiller, whose previous directorial efforts include dark comedy (The Cable Guy), mindless comedies (Zoolander), and satirical features (Tropic Thunder); Stiller’s cinematic eyes seems to be growing.

Mitty lives in a world filled with vivid fantasies that defy logic. After the first few minutes of the film, we give in to the secret life Walter has been to keen on hiding. Essentially, Mitty becomes a mystery-adventure filled with laughs and endearing moments full of fun and high spectacle.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a meek and mild cinematic feat for a comedic director whose most memorable work is highlighted with vulgarity and crass. The film is an amazing change of form for a maturing actor in front of the camera and director behind the lens.

The film as a whole has been generating some Oscar buzz and I can assure you that, for the most part, this is not an Oscar caliber film in any of the main categories. Whether or not Mitty will garner any production nominations is another story. The film is definitely not without talent; from Fernando DaSilva the man responsible for some of the location scouting, to Patton Oswalt, Shirley MacLaine and Sean Penn in charming supporting roles, to the gorgeous shots of Director of Photography Stuart Dryburgh, Mitty is an adventurous Hollywood parable with gorgeous production value and some stunning landscaping eye candy.

Held together by the sonic rock anthems of Icelandic indie-folk group Of Monsters and Men as well as Montreal based indie-baroque revival Arcade Fire, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a jovial experience at the multiplexes this Christmas whose intent on having fun and enjoying the moment that is front and centre.

Night Film Reviews: 6/10 Stars.

What did you love or hate from Ben Stiller’s newest directorial feature? Is The Secret Life of Walter Mitty one of Stiller’s better films or should he return to straight-up comedies? Leave your comments below! 

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1 Comment

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