I finally got around to watching The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, starring (and directed by) Ben Stiller. It not only was not what I expected, but it only lightly stayed on course with the source material, making this a delightfully fun film that the entire family could watch.
The story starts out watching Walter (Stiller) going through his morning routines, interspersed with moments of personal fantasy projections into his routine. In one instance, you see he has a hankering for a co-worker, Cheryl (Kristen Wiig) and in another instance, you see what he feels like doing to an ahole “New Acquisitions Manager,” Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott).
The onset of the story we see how much Walter is smitten with Cheryl and how the company he’s working for is going through a transition that will be involving layoffs. That company is Time Magazine, as the organization is preparing to put out its last magazine, and hence, its last cover.
Walter is the man in charge of photograph negatives, and that’s an important point, because just as the magazine is looking to print its last cover, they receive a set of negatives from a very aloof and “famous” photographer, Sean O’Connell, played by Sean Penn.
In those last negatives, Sean writes a note to Walter, saying that negative number 25 is the quintessential image. And the fact that he’s called this image out as being so important, even the magazine wants to use the picture for its last cover.
Except for one tiny problem, in amongst the package of negatives and nice gift to Walter from Sean (They have a solid working relationship), the very negative he has called out as the most important, is missing.
And this is the crux of the movie – between Walter’s fantasy moments where he “zones out,” and his pursuit of finding this missing negative. (Because he’s never lost an image in his entire life.) And almost as important are these two story lines, there is one more persistent story in the movie, and that is Walter’s pursuit of fixing his online dating relationship profile.
One more thing: In the beginning of the story we see Walter being smitten over Cheryl’s online dating service profile and when he goes to send a “wink” to her, it doesn’t work. He calls the support desk of the online dating service and the service rep he hooks up with, Todd, is played by ever recognizable voice of Patton Oswalt. They start up a conversation with him, telling him that an empty profile, Walter’s, does not help anyone. And throughout the movie, this incredibly fictional service rep continues to call Walter back to keep filling out his profile.
The movie starts out loosely based on the 1939 short story of the same name, but unlike the source material, this film, like the 1947 film of the same name starring Danny Kaye, the source is merely a starting point for the tale and journey that Walter Mitty pursues.
The source that the movie was based on had me worried because I wasn’t that interested in a story about failure. But screenplay writer Steve Conrad and director Ben Stiller took this story in a very different and uplifting direction, giving it a more wonderful tone that depicts a man breaking out of his shell and taking on life and the challenges it presents.
The story is a journey and the journey is what is so fun to follow. The story is peppered with wonderful music and fascinating characters as Walter chases clues to finding what he is looking for.
Stiller is one of those actors that you know for his comedic collective of movies, yet can seem to manage a serious tone with an image that does not deter from that fantasy.
Penn’s role is not huge, but it is important and he plays it superbly.
Wiig did not stand out for me, but did not detract. Her character is a critical point for Walter to focus on and she helps him, in a round about fashion, get over a few of his introvert fears.
Scott is someone you love to hate, at least in this film, and he pulls off his over-the-top character flawlessly.
Shirley MacLaine plays Walter’s mother and for some reason Ólafur Darri Ólafsson‘s character pulled me in, as he did Walter.
This is a fun, clean movie that you can watch with your kids though the thematic message might have to be explained, but the events in it will be easy to decipher. What will entertain the younger viewers are things like a fantastical fight scene, helicopters, oceans, volcanoes, and skateboarding moments. The adults will enjoy the nuances and subtleties and the journey. Stiller hits it out of the park with The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
No matter how you see it, it’s worth it. Whether you rent it or buy it.