The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is based on a short story by American author James Thurber which was published in 1939. Thurber was also involved as a consultant in the first Walter Mitty movie that was made in 1947 starring song and dance man and all round comic entertainer Danny Kaye. Apparently Thurber hated what Hollywood had done to his story and disowned it.
There was always talk of producing a remake and in 2000 Jim Carey was set to play the starring role of Walter Mitty, which obviously never materialised.
This brings us bang up to date with Ben Stiller both directing and taking on the role of Walter Mitty himself. Stiller is no stranger to directing and Walter Mitty is his fifth movie behind the camera. His directing credits have included Reality Bites (1994), The Cable Guy (1996 directing Jim Carey), Zoolander (2001) and Tropic Thunder (2008). Some critics are saying that The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is what Argo was to Ben Affleck and that he has finally been recognised as a serious actor.
In the 2013 version Walter Mitty is a middle age ‘everyman’ who has a fairly mundane job in charge of developing the photographic negatives for Life Magazine. However, the company is about to undergo a downsize of staff and is in the process of being ‘transitioned’ by the obnoxious and smarmy Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott). It is announced that the magazines next issue will be its last as a newsstand title and will convert to a digital version. Walter is tasked with developing the negative of the final cover shot which has been created by mysterious freelance photography Sean O’Connell played by a craggy looking Sean Penn in a kind of strange cameo role.
Walter is also trying to pluck up the courage to ask out co-worker Cheryl (Kristen Wiig) but he has a tendency to drift off into fantasies where he is the adventurous hero, getting even with the boss and at the same time getting the girl of his dreams. When Mitty takes delivery of the negatives that Sean has sent to the Life office, the all-important cover shot image known only as number 25 is missing from the batch of negatives. This is the life changing moment for Walter as he makes it his mission to track down the photographer to retrieve the exclusive number 25. In his pursuit of Sean O’Connell his travels take him to Greenland, Iceland and the Himalayas and his life takes on a more interesting, adventurous and dangerous path.
Ben Stiller is a likeable leading man and as a director he has a good eye for shots of landscapes and stunning vistas. Unfortunately Stiller doesn’t seem too sure of the direction that he wants his film to take. We experience Walters fantasy day dreams from the start but these scenes come off as being somewhat disjointed from the narrative of the film which is unusual as the name in the title (Walter Mitty) became a phrase for someone who is a bit of a dreamer. Both the book and original movie relied on the fantasy dreams as the driving force of the story and second half of the 2013 film is about his discovery of being more and very impulsive and living for the moment. The problem I had with his new found confidence was that his experiences were just too unbelievable. The audience are supposed to see Walter as a likeable loser that you know will come good in the end but Stiller can’t seem to play the underdog for too long.
The film also slows down halfway through and becomes a little self-indulgent and very predictable and seems to promise much more but never delivers. Kristen Wiig who has skill for comedy as she showed us in Bridesmaids is really underused. The highlight for me was the scene with David Bowie’s Space Oddity playing in the background.
I give this film a three out of five for effort.
In cinemas December 26