Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 54 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG for Some Crude Comments, Language and Action Violence
Directed by: Ben Stiller
Written by: Steve Conrad
(based on the short story THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY by James Thurber)
Starring: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Shirley MacLaine, Adam Scott, Kathryn Hahn, Sean Penn & Patton Oswalt
This is the second adaptation of a short story that has been regarded in many circles as a mini-masterpiece. The 1947 adaptation of the tale didn’t stay true to the written work. Taking in that logic, why should this second adaptation be any different? In fact, this new version of THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY uses the concept of the story to tell an entirely new (though familiar) tale.
Walter Mitty is an ordinary guy with his mind in the clouds daydreaming about fantastical deeds and being the hero that he doesn’t see himself as. When his job is threatened due to a missing photograph of mass importance, Walter slowly opens up to romance the co-worker he’s had a crush on and finds himself on a real life adventure to find the freelance photographer’s missing photo.
About a third of the film takes place inside the confines of Walter’s daydreams and these are brought to life via spectacular effects. However, the movie isn’t all about Walter’s imagination running wild, because this is a journey of self-discovery. The story itself doesn’t really cover any new or unfamiliar ground, but it just happens to be done extraordinarily well. Ben Stiller pulls double-duty behind and in front of the camera. Surprisingly, this is probably the finest Ben Stiller performance I’ve seen. He gives the viewer a remarkable insight into the character of Walter.
Besides Stiller, the cast also sports Kristen Wiig as Walter’s crush, Adam Scott as Mitty’s verbally abusive boss, the frequent voice of Patton Oswalt as an online-dating company representative, and Sean Penn in a brief (but powerful) scene as famed photographer Sean O’Connell. Every cast member pulls their weight to present these characters as always centered in the real world. For a budget of 90 million dollars, WALTER MITTY certainly seems to have used every cent in the best possible way. This is about telling a great story with a great message behind it that can be taken to heart by anybody (young or old). The cast, amazing cinematography, and enjoyable screenplay all contribute to a simply all around impressive experience.
Of course, the film isn’t perfect and there are two problems that weighed it down. The story is predictable. We all have ideas to where it’s going and I guessed every single one of the plot points on the mark. One of the final shots of the film is supposed to resonate a lot of power and meaning. It did to some extent, but I felt a bit of that was lost due to some seriously obvious clues put right in front of the viewer’s face to guess what conclusion the story will take.
Secondly, some of the pacing is a bit off. There are plenty of beautiful and simply awesome moments throughout the movie, but there are also some scenes that seem to go on for too long. Some mild dragging takes place in the middle portion of the film. It felt like the adventure was interrupted for both Walter and the viewer (in a few ways, it was). When the film picks back up though, it’s thoroughly entertaining and somewhat makes up for the plodding moments. I felt that THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY didn’t need to be just shy of two hours long, but maybe that’s just me.
Even with these faults, it shouldn’t be overlooked that the very essence of THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY is uplifting and has the viewer walking out with a sense of how wonderful life itself is, without ever being cheesy. This is a celebration of the everyday man and seizing the opportunities put in front of us. The message that I felt was that we only have a certain amount of time on this Earth, but the way WALTER MITTY shows it is far from depressing or off-putting. It’s a movie about living and how truly wonderful that is! Though it’s got a few stumbles, THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY comes highly recommended!