Sometimes the lines between reality and fantasy is blurred. In the moment, daydreams can feel like real life. Such is the existence of Walter Mitty, the milquetoast main character of James Thurber's 1939 "New Yorker" short story.
Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, the fat dude from Two and a Half Men (when it got shit) and Adam Scott. On the surface, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty looks like a comedy. However, if you go deeper in, it's far from it. It's a drama with some funny moments. Sometimes it's funny, most of the time it's not. However, most of the time it nails the drama. It's poignant, sincere and sentimental.
The film is about a day-dreamer who escapes his anonymous life by disappearing into a world of fantasies filled with heroism, romance and action. This is where the first problem arises. Firstly, it fills like filler. It's actually getting in the way of the story. I was desperate to get along with the story and by the first couple of 'fantasies' it just gets boring. One, for example, goes on for about five minutes and it's almost exactly the same as Peter Griffin fighting the chicken in Family Guy. It was dull. Also, the film is just too ambiguous. I didn't have a clue if what I was seeing on screen was a Walter fantasy or not.
The film would have been much better if they toned it down a little OR ramped it up and made them interesting. After all, it's a good trick and could have worked really well. It just didn't do enough to make them interesting and halfway through they dropped them like a bad habit. Unfortunately, it wedged itself between the two and didn't really work.
Steve Conrad's script is a jumbled farce, misfiring on comedic executions and inserting beats that have no real relevance to the story. A "Benjamin Button" joke, though funny to watch, provides no purpose to our tale. I'm also tired of watching the "nerdy office guy" transform himself into the cool and collected man by film's end. Note to filmmakers, just because your main character is in a shirt and tie at the beginning of the movie, you can't just let them grow a beard, put on a sweater and jeans, and suddenly the audience is supposed to believe he's this "new person."
Despite this, I actually vaguely enjoyed it. Sure it had flaws, but to the right person, this movie is life-changing, life-affirming, and truly beautiful. No, the narrative isn't perfect. The script isn't perfect. There are narrative flaws and stretches of the imagination, but this movie is about stretching the imagination.
Ben Stiller is perfect as Walter Mitty. His performance was exactly what I wanted. His performance was so engaging, a nice break from his usual slapstick roles (which I also love). If you are hoping to see him doing one of his usual humorous roles, you will be disappointed. If you want to see him capturing the emotions of a man that has a hard time expressing himself, you will love this movie.
The entire camera work by Stuart Dryburgh, most notable for his work on Jane Campion's The Piano twenty years ago, is smoothly appealing with stunning shots for the audience to sink their teeth into. As the film travels throughout different parts of the world including Iceland and Greenland, two places that haven't been explored that much in film are stunning. We have to give credit to director Stiller who knows how to frame his films exceedingly well. There are elements where he takes his cues from films like Stranger than Fiction and Garden State. At the press conference he mentioned watching The Apartment with the cast in order to get a feel for what he wanted this sprawling epic to feel like.
I can appreciate the respect and passion that Stiller has for the source material and more times than not, the film is entertaining. Mass audiences will probably fall for it in a big way especially around the holidays. One does wonder whether the audience will be impressed, however. I don't think this is the film mass audiences will be expected.
From the looks of it, the film is going to be incredibly divisive. Some will love it, others will be disappointed. I unfortunately fall right down the middle. I can both agree with both sides of table.