Review – The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty

There’s fridge magnet philosophy a go-go in Ben Stiller’s latest about an ordinary guy with extraordinary fantasies of heroic adventure who finally decides to get busy livin’ when he embarks on a globe-trotting quest.

While there's no denying The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty's anti-capitalist message will chime with many, its hero should have dreamed for someting better than this

While there’s no denying The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty’s message will chime with many, its hero should have dreamed for something better than this

Originally a short story by James Thurber, The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty first appeared on screen in 1947 starring Danny Kaye as the titular everyman.

Apparently Thurber hated the script so much he voiced his disillusionment through the letter pages of Life, the magazine Walter (played by Stiller) works for in this remake.

Walter (Ben Stiller) dissapears into a dram world, to the amusement of his boss (Adam Scott) in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Walter (Ben Stiller) disappears into a dram world, to the amusement of his boss (Adam Scott) in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Bean counters with identikit suits and beards (led by Adam Scott sporting the scariest facial hair since John Travolta in Killing Season) announce that Life is being turned into a web-only publication and half-heartedly motivate the people they’re firing to make sure its final newstand edition is the best yet. Not only is Walter’s job on the line, but that of his secret crush Cheryl (Kristen Wiig) too.

As much out of a desire to impress Cheryl than a knee-jerk attempt to save his job, Walter goes in search of esteemed photojournalist Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn, obviously) to track down the edition’s missing cover image – called the “quintessence of Life”.

One of Walter's (Ben Stiller) numerous fantasies in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

One of Walter’s (Ben Stiller) numerous fantasies in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Walter’s quest takes him to Greenland, Iceland and Afghanistan and sees him jump out of a helicopter, almost get eaten by a shark, inadvertently skateboard towards a volcanic eruption and climb a great mountain as he finally starts living the dream instead of fantasising about it.

There can’t be many of us who haven’t, at some point, wanted to throw off the shackles of our daily lives and do the things we’ve spent so long going on about. To that end, The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty will chime with a lot of cinemagoers. Despite the stunning locations we’re treated to, however, the film ultimately feels a letdown.

Steve Conrad’s uneven script is very episodic and leads to a topsy-turvy narrative that threatens to stifle the emotional engagement you feel for Walter. In taking big strides to reach the desired end point for our hero, the film misses out on the little things that could and should have made this journey special.

Walter (Ben Stiller) with the object of his affection, co-worker Cheryl (Kristen Wiig) in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Walter (Ben Stiller) with the object of his affection, co-worker Cheryl (Kristen Wiig) in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

A life-changing and possibly dangerous section of Walter’s journey that takes him to the top of a mountain is (literally) written-off by Stiller as a series of bland and cheesy diary entries, while his eventual encounter with O’Connell is undermined by a rather heavy-handed metaphor involving a snow leopard.

While the first section of The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty feels very much like a Stiller movie (including a weird and genuinely funny Curious Case Of Benjamin Button fantasy sequence), the second half comes off as second-rate Wes Anderson, from the use of quick zooms, to long tracking shots and stylised montage. The soundtrack also screams ‘indie’ in an attempt to give the film an edge it never really earns.

Walter's (Ben Stiller) on the adventure of a lifetime in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Walter’s (Ben Stiller) on the adventure of a lifetime in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Stiller veers between low-key and over-the-top and, like the film itself, can’t seem to decide what he wants to go for. He’s a fine, if limited actor and you can’t help feeling he should have cast someone else and stayed behind the camera. Wiig, meanwhile, does her best with limited material, while the less said about the shameless plugs given to an online dating company and pizza firm the better.

While there’s no denying The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty‘s message will ring true with many, its hero should have dreamed for something better than this.

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20 comments

  1. Terry Malloy's Pigeon Coop · December 6, 2013

    Great review Mark. I’m on the fence about seeing this one. Think it’ll be one I see if there’s not much else on.

    • Three Rows Back · December 6, 2013

      Ah, thanks a bunch Chris. It’s a Christmas release so I’m guessing they are hoping there won’t be anything opening against it.

  2. Tom · December 6, 2013

    Shit. I was fearing this. I am eager to still see Stiller in it, because the constant comparisons I hear of it to Forrest Gump is, I think, quite insane. Judging by this, I should adjust my expectations to much lower levels. Thanks for the heads up 😀 😀

    • Three Rows Back · December 6, 2013

      You’re welcome! I saw the trailer and hoped for something to make me grin like a little boy. The film tries, but it’s not in the same class as Gump et al.

  3. Mark Walker · December 6, 2013

    Fine work Mark. I was quite drawn to this little film but I find Stiller very hit and miss. Mostly miss, actually.

    • Three Rows Back · December 6, 2013

      Cheers Mark. I think Stiller, and the studio, were hoping for awards off the back of this, but it’s not got nearly enough going for it.

  4. chris2508 · December 6, 2013

    Great review. I’m disappointed man, I secretly had high hopes for this film.

    • Three Rows Back · December 6, 2013

      So did I, believe me. It’s not rubbish, just not good either.

  5. jjames36 · December 6, 2013

    Sounds dissappointing.

    • Three Rows Back · December 6, 2013

      ‘fraid so.

      • jjames36 · December 6, 2013

        All the more so because the trailer is so fantastic.

      • Three Rows Back · December 6, 2013

        I’m waiting for people to disagree with me about this one.

  6. Robert · December 6, 2013

    Good work, still on the fence about this one, but I think I rather watch Wolf of Wall Street on Christmas

    • Three Rows Back · December 6, 2013

      Out of the two that’s the one I would go for my friend.

  7. Naomi · December 9, 2013

    Expected a lot when I read the premise but sounds like it failed. 😦

  8. Lights Camera Reaction · December 19, 2013

    Excellent review, I completely agree with you. There’s a lot to be admired here, but its so overcooked featuring several different ideas that don’t quite gel together. However, What Walter Mitty benefits from is how it looks. Stiller and cinematographer, Stuart Dryburgh create this world that is both inspired and stunning.

    • Three Rows Back · December 19, 2013

      Thanks man. I admire its ambition and visually it’s a thing of beauty, but a film needs more than visuals to work and this is where Walter Mitty falls down. The script feels half-baked to me; essentially a series of episodes that simply don’t hold together.

  9. I want to to thank you for this good read!! I definitely
    loved every bit of it. I have got you book-marked to check out new stuff you post…

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