The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Directed by Ben Stiller
Written by Steve Conrad
Starring Ben Stiller, Kristin Wiig, Adam Scott, Sean Penn, and Shirley MacLaine
Release date: December 25, 2013
Ben Stiller’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a common, oft-heard message masquerading as an insight.
To be fair, the message is a sound one — one we’ve all heard countless times — but one that few of us heed: Live. Live your life. Get out there and experience it. In order to remind us of that message, superimposed text graphics that feel like they’re from a “Just Do It” Nike commercial, are peppered throughout.
Again, while the sentiment is worthy, I fretted our culture has cultivated an audience for material that feels pithy, but is anything but. In short, the suggestion that they’ve experienced something deep and enriching is enough to make them believe they actually have.
That said, the impetus for Mitty’s action concerns the demise of Life Magazine (get it?), and in a subliminal context, print media. This subject matter, in better hands with a different agenda, could make for a potent film. There is something inherently wonderful about reading printed materials, and about the craft that used to go into their creation — a level of craft that simply cannot exist in the online paradigm, with its continuous need to churn out “content.”
Back to the story at hand. Sean Penn appears as a reclusive photographer — an artiste — which borders on an exaggerated take on his real-life perception as a pretentious blowhard. It is Mitty’s quest to find him that propels the story from one big scene to another, leading him to…
The big reveal, which turned out be completely anti-climatic. The movie was building towards it, and clearly, Stiller was going for an epiphany. From the muted response at the screening I attended, he blew it, giving his character gravitas that was never there.
One distracting element, but a major facet of the story: Walter’s fantasies; zoning out in front of people talking to him, would have them wondering if he had a serious neurological disorder, in need of urgent treatment.