Director: Ben Stiller
Starring: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Shirley MacLaine, Adam Scott, Sean Penn, Kathryn Hahn
Written by: Steve Conrad and (based on the short story) James Thurber
Running Time: 114 mins
Release date: 26th December 2013
Some people are ignorant. I’m sorry to have to say that but they are. I have just got back from a secret screening and as soon as the classification for The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty came onto the screen, there seemed to be a mass exodus to the exit. So what if it’s not The Hobbit or some superhero movie, at least give it a chance. Don’t just leave because you don’t like the title! I didn’t and I was pleasantly surprised. The film might not be perfect but it had something most films don’t…heart.
Walter Mitty is an ordinary man who seems to lead a boring, uneventful life. Working as a negative checker for Life Magazine, he fills his days with day-dreams, particularly involving a female colleague, Cheryl, who he has fallen in love with but she seems not to even notice him. As the magazine is heading for closure, going from print to online, Walter receives a container with negatives from top photographer, Sean O’Connell, with a letter telling him to print negative 25 for the final front cover. Only thing is, the negative is missing. Desperate to find it, Walter embarks on his own personal mission to track down the elusive photographer, leading him on a quest that takes him to Greenland, Iceland and Afghanistan.
It has taken Walter Mitty a long tome to get to the screen again. Years in pre-production being green lighted and then cancelled. It is a surprising project for Ben Stiller to be attached to, especially considering how surprisingly restrained it is. Stiller isn’t usually know for his subtleties and yet here he often pulls back instead of shoving the obvious down our throat. The humour is also surprisingly gentle. For a man who made Zoolander and Tropic Thunder, this has more of the style and delivery of Local Hero than anything else Stiller has done.
That’s not saying it isn’t flawed. There are moments that sit uncomfortably among the beautiful scenery of Greenland and Iceland. A “Benjamin Button” style spoof, while amusing, doesn’t seem to have any rhyme or reason to be there and some of the plot contrivances seemed a pointless, like Walter arriving at Cheryl’s home to discover her ex-husband at door. We know what’s going to happen there.
There’s a sweet-natured love story running through the film (along with a huge advert for e-harmony, as well as Life Magazine) but the main element of the film is one man’s journey to find himself and it’s this journey that makes the film such a pleasure, thanks to Stuart Dryburgh’s impressive cinematography. He captures the richness of Iceland gloriously, like looking at a photo from Life Magazine. It is one of the best things about this film and makes you want to discover the lands for yourself.
The cast do a very good job too. Kristen Wiig,as love interest, Cheryl, seems somewhat wasted, although you can easily understand why Walter is smitten by her. Wiig is one of the most talented comedians around and yet she plays it completely straight here. Not a bad thing, as she plays the girl-next-door very well. I was just hoping that the script would allow room for her usually spot-on comic timing to appear. Adam Scott is suitably oily and villainous as the man who comes to close the magazine down and bullies Walter, while Kathryn Hahn is a delight as Walter’s scatty sister.
Shirley MacLaine, as Walter’s mother and Sean Penn as Sean steal the acting credits with small but perfectly formed roles and Stiller, the actor, gives his most accomplished performance to date in the title role, proving if he pulls the reins back, he can deliver a good, solid piece of acting.
Walter Mitty might not be the greatest film in the world and won’t stay in the memory too long either but as a piece of entertainment, it does the job and does it well. It has a terrific soundtrack and if you can appreciate expert cinematography, then this is for you. It does have heart and Stiller obviously wants to be as faithful as he can to the day dreaming character. It has old fashioned charm. It’s worth giving it a chance, as you might be pleasantly surprised and at this time of year, it will leave a small smile on your face.