Ben Stiller’s failed Oscar bait, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty received mixed buzz from critics with just a 48% on Rotten Tomatoes. The film’s trailers were originally primed to be Stiller’s potential award winner but instead ended up just being a feel good christmas movie. It’s a shame because after seeing the film, I definitely see the ambition but the flaws as well. The film’s cinematography, direction, and music are the highlights. The film’s based on the classic short story from James Thurber and the 1947 film with Daniel Kaye.
Stiller plays the titular character who is a negative assets manager working for the now-defunct Life magazine. The photos he process are beautiful and elegant, the exact opposite of Walter’s life. Mitty’s personal life is dull and boring yet he has moments where he “zones out” and his life is exciting. Those moments cause people to avoid him. One day on the job, he receives negatives from Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn) that feature one photo that’s suppose to be amazing. Mitty learns that the photo is missing and begins a worldwide journey to find O’Connell.
The film clearly has a Forrest Gump feel to it, as we witness this incredible journey through one man’s eyes. Yet where Gump is a classic film, Mitty struggles to with the characters and writing. The film characters outside of Mitty are all either one-note or uninteresting. Writer Steve Conrad gives us a beautiful sight to see but not enough characters to make us truly love the film. Stiller’s Mitty can be described as friendly yet lonely. He gives off the upbeat look of a man who has no one that truly cares for him. The character Mitty falls for Cheryl (Kristen Wiig) is a co-worker who helps Mitty but never seems to share the same feelings. The relationship is never really well-developed which makes the ending seemed forced.
The biggest flaw with the film is Adam Scott’s Ted Hendricks who is the villain of the film. Scott is completely wasted as Mitty’s new boss and is just a jerk throughout. He never shows any real feelings and it’s a shame. Scott is a great actor and if given the right material, he can shine (see: Parks and Recreations). Sean Penn is also incredibly underused in the film as he’s sort of the wise old man that gives Walter life advice. I understand that he’s not suppose to be in the film that much but when you have an actor with the caliber Penn has, you must use him more.
Despite all of these issues, there something I really enjoyed about the film. Stiller’s direction is fantastic and the cinematography from Stuart Dryburgh is beautiful. I mean Dryburgh deserves an Oscar nod for his work here. The soundtrack is also note-worthy featuring Junip and Of Monsters and Men. The film is beautiful to look at and the film’s theme isn’t that we should jump into life with reckless abandon. It’s that if we do, life can be just as fantastic as our wildest dreams. It’s a powerful message that feels overstated. Walter Mitty may not be Forrest Gump but the film sure does have its moments. The film’s ambition is truly there and wants to be something special. It doesn’t come off as just some feel-good lifetime movie, but rather a film that has some real heart. It’s clear that Stiller is real trying to make a special film. He’s directed a few movies in the past that include zany comedies Zoolander, The Cable Guy and Tropic Thunder. Yet his first directorial film, Reality Bites shows that Stiller has a lot of range.
Stiller has been the star of some pretty crappy movies lately (Little Fockers, The Watch) but has proven to be a versatile actor when he tries (see: Greenberg). I’m personally not the biggest Stiller fan, mainly because I feel in a lot of movies he plays the same role. It’s clear that here, he’s trying something different. Walter Mitty may not be the perfect film, but it’s a good place to start.