Written by Lily Davis.
Ben Stiller certainly is no stranger to the role of director. He has several successful works already under his belt such as Zoolander and Tropic Thunder. However his name is definitely most associated with comedy. With his new film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Stiller has made a solid attempt to break free from the comedy genre. You have to commend him on the effort. Sure this film still has its funny moments, but it has the definite feel of a drama. Stiller succeeds in this transition and has produced a visually inspiring film that might even give you goose bumps.
The screenplay is a loose adaptation of a short story by James Thurber in 1939. Steve Conrad (The Pursuit of Happyness) developed the script, which has undergone many changes considering the original was only two-and-a-half pages long. Any failings of the film seem to stem from the script. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is at times quite predictable and simplistic. In fact, if you have seen the trailer you probably have a very clear idea of exactly what is going to happen. However, this flaw doesn’t prove too major and the film is still highly enjoyable.
Ben Stiller plays Walter Mitty, a chronic daydreamer whose only excitement comes from the many heroic adventures he plays out in his head. He works at Life Magazine, which proves ironic, as Walter seems to have no life himself. The magazine is moving online and the final issue is looming. Walter has the important job of handling the negative for the last cover, which has been described by its photographer Sean O’Connell as the “quintessence of life”. There’s just one problem, the negative is missing, and the timing couldn’t be worse for Walter. His awful new boss, Adam Scott, is breathing down his neck. All the while, Walter lusts after his co-worker Cheryl, played by the lovely Kristin Wiig, but he barely has the courage to send her a wink on eHarmony, let alone ask her out in person.
The performances are solid all round. Ben Stiller is great as the likeable Walter. It’s easy to enjoy watching this character’s journey and growth throughout the film. The relationship between Walter and Cheryl (Wiig) is particularly touching, and there are moments between them that feel very real. Sean Penn manages to make an impression in the very short screen time that he has. Shirley MacLaine and Kathryn Hahn also work well as Walter’s mother and sister. The performances are satisfying, even if some character developments are a little shallow.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty really excels when it comes to visual aesthetics. From the opening credits the film is visually rich. Ben Stiller worked with cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh on this film and between them they have produced extraordinary results. Even the opening scenes that convey Walter’s drab, colourless lifestyle manage to look good. However they simply can’t compare to the later parts of the film set in Greenland, Iceland and Afghanistan. These are simply stunning to behold. The scenery is breathtaking by itself, but the way this film is shot only makes the landscape more beautiful. Every image has strong, vibrant tones and is stylistically impressive.
The message of the film is wonderful. It’s all about the importance of having a lust for life and a sense of adventure and courage. Most of the time this message is shoved down your throat, but it’s hard to be too critical when the film means so well. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a heart-warming film, perfect for the holiday season.
THE REEL SCORE: 7/10