He jumps off a subway platform, crashes through a window, to save a dog before the building explodes. But The Secret Life of Walter Mitty isn’t another superhero alter ego movie. Instead, it’s one in which a nondescript man fantasizes about sweeping the girl of his dreams off her feet with extreme heroic acts.
In reality, however, Walter Mitty (played by Ben Stiller, who also directed the movie), is less exciting and suave than Johnny English the wannabe Bond, though they share the same delusions of grandeur. In fact, the 42-year-old doesn’t even have the courage to confess his love for co-worker Cheryl Melhoff (Oscar nominee Kristen Wiig). But it’s hard to blame the guy for his insecurities when Melhoff’s online profile reveals that she likes people who are “Adventurous, Brave and Creative”.
Though he works at the iconic Life Magazine, his prospects are dimming as he’s bracing himself to be laid off, with the last issue due to roll off the presses. This is where things get hot under the collar, because the photo shot by Sean O’ Connell (Oscar-winner Sean Penn), meant for the cover of this final issue, is missing.
But since it’s been his job for the last 16 years to manage the photo negatives, it opens an opportunity for him to go to places like Greenland in hot pursuit of it. Thanks to this turnaround, the pace of the film picks up and we get to be wowed by some spectacular cinematography.
Mitty’s globetrotting includes rarely used filming locations like Iceland, capturing breathtaking shots of nature – for instance, Grundarfjörður, the north of Snæfellsnes peninsula. Just on the technical aspects, where Stiller and his crew have to fight against the locale’s strong winds, this must be Stiller’s most challenging film to date, especially when compared to others he had directed like Zoolander and The Cable Guy.
In Stiller’s fifth feature as a director, he presents a range of creative wide shots and interesting scribbles of Mitty’s travelogues (such as “at 18,000 feet, my mind drifts like snow”) layered over the panoramic backdrops to grant audience a complete “travel” experience.
Stiller’s also well cast for Mitty as he’s often seen playing the lovable loser, the inept/insecure boyfriend or husband who struggles to land the girl in comedies like There’s Something About Mary, Meet the Parents, and the much less successful Along Came Polly with Jennifer Aniston.
With 28 years of comedic acting experience under his belt (topped off with his natural chemistry with Melhoff), hilarity sure comes easy. Especially in the scene where he transforms into a mountain climber from the icy mountains — Mitty boasts that he’s been “testing the limits of the human spirit” as he attempts to capture Melhoff’s affections.
This otherwise cheesy scene turns jocular as the audience watch Mitty being thrown back to reality with the hit of a paperclip by his new boss, Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott).
The character Ted Hendricks adds another dimension to the film by injecting rib-tickling moments with his constant bickering and off-putting sneering of Mitty, whom he views as a trifling presence after catching Mitty in many of his daydream trances.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty occasionally brings back glimpses of Mitty’s childhood memories with the inclusion of Stretch Armstrong—a hard-bodied blond action figurine in a pair of trunks, similar in appearance to other action figures (think Superman or Batman) but possessing the astounding ability to be stretched 4 times its original size.
Unfortunately, this second take of James Thurber’s 1939 short story, disappoints slightly with the sporadic clichés in its storyline. Both the resolution of the conflict in the love line between Mitty and Melhoff and the mystery contained in the negative 25 are a tad too predictable.
Perhaps, scriptwriter Steve Conrad could have done a better job at adding spice to the rather bland and passive romance, although the scene of imaginary Melhoff serenading Mitty with “Space Oddity” by David Bowie did wonders for the romanticism.
Nonetheless, what stays in the minds of the audience is the superb cinematography that leaves us almost believing we’ve just travelled to these beautiful locations.
Unlike Brad Harris (Jack Black) in The Big Year and Lemuel Gulliver (Jack Black) in Gulliver’s Travel, where both films fared amateurishly with their plot developments and cast performances, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty clearly surpasses the audience’s expectations of an action and adventure vehicle. No wonder it recently received the Best Top Ten Films award by National Board of Review.
Release date: Dec 25
Runtime: 115 minutes
Censorship rating: PG
Director: Ben Stiller
Main Actors: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Sean Penn
Photos courtesy of cinema85.com, heyugyuys.co.uk, hk-magazine.com, geeksofdoom.com, screenrant.com