THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY
20th Century Fox
Reviewed for Shockya by Harvey Karten. Data-based on RottenTomatoes.com
Director: Ben Stiller
Screenwriter: Steve Conrad
Cast: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Patton Oswalt, Shirley MacLaine, Adam Scott, Kathryn Hahn
Screened at: Regal Union Sq., NYC, 12/5/13
Opens: December 25, 2013
Walter Mitty is Everyman. Who among us does not dream of being something more than we actually are? Don’t all men want to be Brad Pitt, all women Angelina Jolie? We go to the movies and are able to leap tall buildings at a single bound, drive across Rodeo Drive in a Batmobile, become the first person to set foot on Mars. Two or three of us may not daydream at all, but at nighttime you can’t escape it. You’re something other than you are, and so is Ben Stiller as Walter Mitty, a guy who works in the basement for Life magazine shuffling negatives, a fellow who himself has been missing out on life. And now on top of everything he’s being downsized. What’s left for him aside from a bowl of soup served by his mom (Shirley MacLaine)? Well for one thing there’s this young woman, a co-worker named Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig). He’d like to ask her out or at least chat her up but instead tries to contact her by a “wink” on his eHarmony site. But Walter Mitty is such a dork that even the computer has his number and filters out his “wink”by not allowing it to reach the intended woman.
“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is based on James Thurber’s two-page article in The New York Magazine seventy-four years ago, a short story brought magnificently to life by Danny Kaye in Norman Z. McLeod 1947 movie about a proofreader so introverted that his mother brokers a marriage to a woman who does little but henpeck the poor guy. The current version directed by Ben Stiller and starring Stiller in the title role has Mitty not henpecked by a woman but dumped on by a Life magazine transition director (Adam Scott) who must decide which personnel to lay off as that magazine reverts to an online edition and who in one scene flips a paper clip to the back of Mitty’s neck to see if the daydreamer is alive.
Walter’s problem is that he does not think Cheryl would give him a second look: that he would have to take part in some exceptional feats to win her attention and affection. He may be right. After all even his jacket is gray. But if he could bring back a sought-after negative from explorer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn), he could win the heart of his love interest and maybe even a commendation from his new boss, whom he correctly calls “a dick.”
With some striking CGI, Walter Mitty flies to Greenland where he meets up with a drunken helicopter pilot (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson), then on to Iceland, finally to a meeting with the great explorer who allows Walter to take a peek in his camera at a snow leopard and who tells him where to find the negative he seeks. Because the transitions from real life to daydreams are not obvious, we don’t know whether he really accomplished globe-trotting feats beyond his wildest dreams or whether he never left the New York locale of his residence.
One trouble with “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is that it is not funny. But funny is not a requirement. Still, what is it? If a narrative drama, the film does not congeal and resembles little more than a series of adventures with Walter’s love interest serving as merely a fragile anchor. Although we can assume that Walter Mitty will win Cheryl’s affection, that would not be long lived as he does not reinvent himself simply by traveling to destinations that feature an erupting volcano or plunging into icy water chased by sharks. Soon after these moments of daring, he will go back to dreaming of flying into a burning building to rescue Cheryl’s three-legged dog and will wind up once again depending on an eHarmony customer service rep (Patton Oswalt) to secure dates. An optimistic ending for Christmas day? Hardly.
Rated PG. 114 minutes © 2013 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – C
Acting – C+
Technical – B
Overall – C+