The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller, 2013)
Ben Stiller directs and stars in this adaptation of James Thurber’s 1939 short story. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty has been adapted for the screen once before, in 1947, however the current version has made considerable changes. Set in the current day, this contemporary reworking sees Walter Mitty (Stiller) daydreaming of a life less ordinary, while he works in the ‘Negative Assets’ department of Life Magazine. When he is unable to locate a crucial negative taken by the almost-impossible-to-contact photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn), he sets out to track O’Connell and the negative down. In doing so he broadens his experiences in ways that not even he could have imagined. He is assisted and inspired along the way by burgeoning love interest, Cheryl (Kristen Wiig) and is tormented by his wanker boss, Hendricks (Adam Scott). Shirley MacLaine and Kathryn Hahn round out the primary cast as Walter’s mother and sister.
Despite being far from the laugh-out-loud nature of my personal favourite Stiller film, Zoolander (Ben Stiller, 2001), Mitty still provides a number of moments which make you smile, and manages to be heart-warming without excess saccharine. Stiller proves he can play a protagonist with greater depth beyond hilarious model poses and side-splitting one-liners. Here he is understated and genuine. Kristen Wiig also succeeds in treading new ground in a relatively straight role, however it seemed a shame she could not show off her comedic talents here. Adam Scott successfully pulls off the antagonistic Hendricks, however his role was almost irritatingly one-dimensional. Sean Penn is Sean Penn, and so obviously he is awesome.
The cinematography was beautifully executed in a film where the beauty of photography was a prominent focus – my favourite moment was an image of a contact sheet of negatives blending into an image of Walter in front of a water fountain whilst looking through some photographs. There was a reoccurring use of text overlayed onto the film which was a nice touch in some instances but became distracting and difficult to read at other points. Similarly, the soundtrack, which used classic hits such as ‘Space Oddity’ by David Bowie, managed to be simultaneously effective and jarring.
Although it’s guaranteed there will be viewers eager to criticise the many “plot holes” and implausible story developments inherent in Mitty (How does his phone still have reception on top of a mountain? How does he so easily stumble upon the exact people who can help him when arriving in a foreign country? Why didn’t O’Connell use a digital camera? Why is Adam Scott’s beard so unrealistically bad?), it is not a legitimate criticism for a film where Walter’s rich fantasy life is such a prominent theme. Rather, viewers need to embrace what is presented to them and follow Walter’s lead in just going along for the ride. As it reaches its conclusion it is not difficult to guess the final reveal, but it is a rewarding one nevertheless.