This post is something a bit different, but last week I attended an advance screening of The Secret Life of Walter
Mitty, and thought I'd share my thoughts on it, as it doesn't come out for a few weeks yet, and I've not seen any other reviews for it. I did send this in to Ain't It Cool News last week, but they've not published it yet. Either there is some kind of review embargo set by the film studio, or the review just isn't worth publishing! The officials at the screening didn't tell us we couldn't write about the film, so I'm guessing it's the latter...
It was a mystery screening, so nobody knew what we were watching until the title card came up. To be honest, there seemed to be a general vibe of deflated-ness in the cinema when the title was revealed. Personally I was hoping for Anchorman 2, and it seemed like most of the audience were hoping for something different too. But hey, it was free, and they’d given us free Maltesers, so we gave it a chance.
Before the film started, they warned us that some CGI wasn’t finished and there might be some obvious blue screen scenes, but I didn’t see any special effects shots that looked incomplete. By the way, there will probably be spoilers ahead, as it’s easier to write reviews without trying to conceal information! Here goes.
If you’ve seen the trailer, you know what this film is about. Walter Mitty (played by Ben Stiller) is a quiet, introverted guy who has seen a girl he likes at work (Cheryl, played by Kristen Wiig), but can’t quite muster the courage to tell her how he feels. Although he works with her, he’s more comfortable trying to contact her on eHarmony, but… he’s not really comfortable with that either, as the amusing opening scene illustrates. Walter’s thing is that he “zones out” regularly, and imagines fantastic situations unfolding around him where he gets to be the hero. Again, if you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen most of these scenes already. They’re generally played for comedy, and are quite inventive, and fun to watch.
Walter and Cheryl work for Life magazine. Walter has been a Negative Assets Manager (he deals with photo negatives in his basement office, with one other worker) for 16 years, and Cheryl has worked upstairs (it’s never clear exactly what she does) for one month. The magazine is being taken over or merged or something, and going “online-only”, and the change is being managed by a
douche-in-a-beard, played by Adam Scott (who I’ve only ever seen playing douchebags). I usually find Scott pretty funny, but here I just found him needlessly mean. I mean the movie couldn’t do much more to make him out to be more of a bully, and thus the obvious bad guy.
Straight away, Walter and beard guy (I can’t remember his name, I’m not sure if it he even has one) get off on the wrong foot when Walter feels the pressure of explaining his role to the guy who will be evaluating his usefulness, and beard guy jumps all over him. This continues throughout the movie. Walter does have one pretty awesome daydream about an elevator fight with the beard, that explodes out onto the street and culminates with them surfing through busy roads on chunks of
concrete, all while fighting over a Stretch Armstrong toy. You read that right. When this scene started, I wondered, “what’s the point?” as we know straight away that this is a daydream and not real, but it’s so entertaining that it’s a lot more fun to just go with it.
The love-interest angle with Cheyl is played safe all the way. While they’re both a little shy, it’s clear from the start that she has noticed him too, and is interested. There’s never any real danger of them not ending up together, despite a lazy roadblock being thrown down by the writers late in the movie. Predictably, this gets resolved by being explained away as just a misunderstanding.
Anyway, the main plot of the movie involves Walter trying to locate a misplaced negative print sent to him by famous photographer Sean O’Connell (played by Sean Penn). This print is apparently amazing and will be perfect for the final ever printed copy of Life. Of course the print isn’t with the rest of the prints sent in by Sean, so Walter ends up throwing caution to the wind and going on an improbable journey to Greenland, Iceland and even Afghanistan in order to track down this elusive
photographer and get hold of the print before he gets fired.
There is a side-plot about Walter and his sister (Kathryn Hahn) trying to help their mother
(Shirley MacLaine) move house and keep her piano, which doesn’t have too much of a payoff. Walter’s mother seems to exist just to save Walter’s ass with some vital information twice in the movie. I guess the moral is, shy guys always need their mothers, and if you write yourself into a corner, they can also be utilised to get the story moving again. I’m not sure her character was fully
thought out though. She’s made out to be a doting mother, but at one point she advises her son to go to Afghanistan, all in the name of tracking down the elusive photographer.
This film is obviously supposed to be inspirational, about facing your fears and stepping out of your comfort zone. In places it succeeds, and I felt myself getting sucked in every now and then. But
every now and then it also grinds to a halt and I felt myself losing interest. The music is great, and some of the scenery on display is stunning, but I felt the film could benefit from a little tighter editing in a couple of places.
A notable supporting character is that of Todd, Walter’s incredibly dedicated eHarmony profile manager, who calls him at various inconvenient moments on his travels. And when he is finally revealed to be Patton Oswalt near the end of the film, he is just as awesome as you hoped he could be.
Sean Penn is good as the travelling photographer, and gives him a human touch that even got a few laughs from the audience. It’s a small but important role. There are a few good laughs in this film, but overall Stiller plays it quite straight. I guess this could be his Punch Drunk Love, or Stanger Than
Fiction. I’ve always preferred Stiller’s sillier roles (I think he’s great in Dodgeball and even as the mean orderly in Happy Gilmore), but I think he did really well here. He’s not movie-star handsome, and can pull off awkward and shy very well. And I only realised he directed it at the end too. The only other film I know that he’s directed has been The Cable Guy (there are probably more, but I don’t have time to IMDB them now), and I enjoyed that one too.
One thing that got me thinking was, how much of the film was a daydream for Walter? To begin with, it is made clear when he zones out, and when he comes back to reality, but as the film progresses, his experiences get more wild, and the film just continues, making you wonder if his daydreams are stopping, and he really is experiencing these situations, or if the lines between reality and fiction are just getting more blurred for him. In fact, I started to wonder if the
entire movie was meant to be a daydream, as the main plot revolves around one of the most famous magazines in the world shutting down its physical printing and going online-only… which seems a little unlikely to me.
Overall, a very enjoyable movie, despite a few niggles. I’d recommend it for those seeking
inspirational, family friendly fun over the holiday period.
Note to trailer editors: PLEASE stop putting all the exciting moments in the trailer. Every big moment in this film had been shown to some extent in the trailer, meaning very little came as a surprise. This is a shame, as the film would be so much more effective if it could utilise the element of surprise a little more.
My name is Iain and my addiction is making pixel bead art. My main inspirations are comics, video games and movies.