The Secret Life of Walter MittyTuesday 24 Dec 2013
Director: Ben Stiller
Starring: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Sean Penn, Adam Scott, Kathryn Hahn, Shirley MacLaine
Duration: 114 minutes
Did I just daydream that? After two hours of Ben Stiller’s gentle and life-affirming retake of James Thurber’s celebrated short story, I was left confused. Had I just witnessed some high-calorie schmaltz or a damn clever tale of personal transformation and the realisation of The American Dream?
Either way, it's easy to see why this uneven and slghtly tiring Walter Mitty re-take languished in development hell for so long. It does have a few things going for it however, not least Stiller as our daydreaming but not dreamy hero.
He certainly doesn’t mug frenetically like Danny Kaye did in the 1947 movie original. Instead, when his Walter zones out for flights of fancy, he looks serene and finally happy to be released from the chore of dealing with the management dolts he works with on the soon-to-be closed Life magazine.
The long-running standard-bearer of American photo-journalism is about to end its print edition and go online only and Walter is tasked with locating a missing negative from an all-important assignment by a grizzly photographer/adventurer played by Sean Penn.
The misplaced picture is the one which will make the final cover of Life and Mitty’s desperate search for the vital frame will lead him on a global trek that, shucks, teaches him that fantasy is never any substitute for real-life experience.
However, the climb every mountain moral (quite literary) is deadening after a while as we traverse the globe - from Greenland to Afghanistan - in search of the elusive photographer but it does give Stiller a chance to capture some very spectacular vistas, leading to the impression that this Walter Mitty is actually working for National Geographic and not Life.
Back at the office, he pines after a pretty co-worker Cheryl who is played in a similarly downbeat way by Kristen Wiig and there is something warm and believable about their slow courtship. Adam Scott, with a ridiculously sculpted beard, is great as a corporate jerk brought in to oversee the transfer to online and his needling of mild-mannered Walter is fun.
It is short on laughs but it looks gorgeous. Stiller does make some nice points about the value of the physical over the abstract but doesn’t push it too far. It's a glossy high-concept feel good flick that looks a bit like Life of Pi and has the same big, melancholic heart as Forrest Gump.