thu 30/05/2024

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty | reviews, news & interviews

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Ben Stiller's all-encompassing take on a beloved daydreamer is fun, pacey... and patchy

Ben Stiller directs himself as the surprisingly talented Walter Mitty

Patchy but visual, actor/director Ben Stiller ignores the Hollywood motto of not remaking anything good to create an all-encompassing take on the daydreamer Walter Mitty.

Stiller’s dramatic romantic comedy The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is far from the beloved 1947 original starring Danny Kaye based on James Thurber’s magical short story of 1939. This glossy reboot written by Steven Conrad (Pursuit of Happyness) sees Stiller as Walter, an exceptional everyman (if there can be such a thing) whose life is spent in heroic daydreams as he copes with what he sees as a non-heroic life. Losing his job in the bowels of Life magazine’s negative section, he is goaded by a kooky sister (Kathryn Hahn, quite wonderful focus in a thankless role), downsizing mother (Shirley Maclaine as an alpha mom of arresting strength and wisdom) and motivated to win the love of co-worker Cheryl (Kristen Wiig, a woman without flaws).

For Life magazine’s final issue, Walter apparently loses a famous photographer’s chosen negative. To keep a corporate bully off his back (Adam Scott at his most gloriously jerky), Mitty seeks Sean O'Connell (Sean Penn, sound as a pound as a famously erratic photojournalist) to discover the select image’s whereabouts. Mitty's arc from high-esteem office oik to outgoing champion is highlighted by a social media helpdesk helmer (Patton Oswalt). Amazed to see his milque-toasty client’s profile go from nothing – highpoint: visiting Phoenix – to battling a shark, it seems once Walter finds his manly mojo, sappy daydreams give way easily to an exciting reality.

Stiller’s fifth trip as a director, Mitty is an assured rom com/adventure with a slightly preachy core – not that there aren't times when carpe diem is welcome. Given this is Stiller’s biggest try yet for dramatic credibility, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty tries hard to cover all the bases. And yet, by not focusing the film's scope, Stiller ends up swapping the potential comedy gold for easy aphorism, sidestepped in part thanks to good editing by Greg Hayden, snappy music by Theodore Shapiro and vivid production design by Jeff Mann and clearly defined costumes by Sarah Edwards. A lengthy skateboard scene that owes its gorgeous looks to New Zealand's famous DOP Stuart Dryburgh (The Piano), impressive special effects and sensational locations stop it from going "full mush". Its major problem is that Stiller, as an actor, is someone with whom it is difficult to sympathise. We just can't feel sorry for him nor identify with him as Mitty because he just isn't a big enough victim from the outset – or, perhaps, at all.

The takeaway? The Secret Life of Walter Mitty may irritate lovers of the underlying work but it's pacey, pretty and (almost) profound.

Mitty is an assured rom com/adventure with a slightly preachy core - not that there aren't times when carpe diem is welcome


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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