Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) always dreamed of adventure. He works in the photography department at Life Magazine, developing the incredible pictures taken by acclaimed photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn) and working up the courage to talk to his lovely new co-worker Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig). When Life Magazine is bought out and print issues discontinued, however, his job might soon be obsolete. To make matters worse, his latest roll of film from Sean O’Connell is missing one picture which Sean has called his “best ever, the quintessence of life.” Walter’s cruel new boss Ted (Adam Scott) wants the picture for the final cover of Life Magazine, so Walter flies across the world to find Sean, retrieve the missing picture, and see the world as he always wanted.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is based on a short story by James Thurber. There isn’t enough of a story for an entire feature length film, so the only element that the film takes from the story is the character of Walter. Walter lives a mundane life, but he has an active imagination and often disappears into elaborate daydreams. In his mind, he can climb mountains, save puppies from burning buildings, tell Cheryl how he really feels about her, or even come up with a snappy comeback for Ted’s snide remarks. It is appropriate that he works at Life Magazine, a publication that allowed its readers to travel the world through its articles and gorgeous photography.
There is much to recommend about The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. This is Ben Stiller’s most restrained performance in years, and with the exception of a Benjamin Button daydream that falls flat, his direction is solid and self-assured. Cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh also does a brilliant job. His shot composition is gorgeous from the clean-cut, organized monotony of Walter’s apartment to the countryside of Iceland to the Himalayas. There are at least 10 to 20 still shots from the film that I want framed and hanging on my wall, and watching the film can give a viewer a serious case of wander-lust.
The trouble is that it is impossible to get on board with The Secret Life of Walter Mitty unless a viewer can buy into a certain level of nostalgia, optimism, and simplicity. Walter is a sweet guy with fairly easy problems. What he wants and what he needs to do to get it is not complex. He wants to get out and see the world, and he wants the courage to tell a girl how he really feels. Not everyone will find such a simple story compelling. Besides that, the story has some major logic gaps. For example, Walter works in the photography department at Life Magazine. He lives very simply, and besides the impending merger at work, he is currently helping to move his mother, the sadly under-utilized Shirley MacLaine, into a new apartment. How does he have the money to suddenly fly off to Greenland, and if he did have the money, why didn’t he travel before?
Walter’s journey will feel very familiar, however, for anyone who has spent a certain amount of years trying to realize their dreams, only to find themselves pulled into a routine by the pressures and responsibilities of work and family. Despite its problems, I love the message of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, to stop waiting and start living life, and the cinematography alone make it worth a look.
The Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD release comes packed with special features including featurettes on the film’s soundtrack, stunt work, history of the Walter Mitty character, design of Life Magazine, and more. There are also deleted, extended, and alternate scenes, a gallery of reference photography, a music video for “Stay Alive” by Jose Gonzalez, and the theatrical trailer for the film. For those interested in the filmmaking process, the Blu-ray’s behind-the-scenes featurettes are really fantastic and give great insight into the creative process and work behind a film.
"The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" is on sale April 15, 2014 and is rated PG. Comedy, Romance. Directed by Ben Stiller. Written by Steve Conrad, James Thurber. Starring Adam Scott, Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Sean Penn, Shirley MacLaine.