Originally written by James Thurber in 1939, ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ was first a two-page story published in ‘The New Yorker,’ detailing the fantastical events that Walter Mitty imagines (fancying himself to be a surgeon, and assassin, and a pilot -- among other figmental identities) while his wife shops and visits a beauty salon. Later, and even more well-known, is the 1947 film of the same name. Legendary actor Danny Kaye plays daydreaming Mitty who, this time, finds himself embroiled in a real-life adventure where he must, ultimately, become his own hero.
Another attempt at a ‘Mitty’ film reboot started about two decades ago with numerous big-names attached to the project at one time or another, including Ron Howard, Steven Spielberg, Jim Carrey, Owen Wilson, and Mike Myers (among others). Stiller finally signed onto the film in 2011.
In Stiller’s version, Mitty is still a daydreamer who often revels in his imaginative musings, particularly those visions involving a winsome female co-worker, Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig). Yet, in this version, Mitty is a quiet, but liked, workaday negative asset manager for ‘Life’ magazine, whose carefulness is well regarded by renown photographers, like Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn). Mitty soon finds out that his 16-year tenure at ‘Life’s’ print version is coming to an abrupt end, as the magazine is being immediately stopped after the next, final, issue and downsizing into an online-only version.
Leading the cuts into ‘Life’ magazine, is the smarmy, self-inflated, Ted (Adam Scott) who seemingly works hard to belittle the often caught-in-a-daydream Mitty. When famous photog O’Connell sends a supposedly stunning final cover image to ‘Life’ that cannot be found, Ted falsely believes Mitty has mishandled it (although Mitty never received the negative). In turn, meek Mitty makes the radical decision to track down the globe-hopping photographer by treacherously adventuring to Greenland, Iceland, the Himalayas, and, then, back to New York City in order to try to obtain the crucial, final image for the magazine he has so loved.
‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,’ unfortunately, starts out slowly and stereotypically, much like the life Walter Mitty has ploddingly chosen to live. Furthermore, early in the film, Mitty’s daydreams seem uninspired at best (a stereotypical superhero fantasy to save Cheryl’s dog) and annoying at worst (a cringeworthy scene seemingly inspired more by Stiller’s old FOX network sketch comedy show than by Thurber, where Mitty imagines himself as a ‘Benjamin Button’ reverse-aged baby being cared for by Cheryl).
But, something almost magical and transformative begins to happen to the formerly sleep-inducing film the moment Mitty leaves his comfort zone of New York and ends up in rural Greenland with a drunk helicopter pilot (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson). (The gorgeous cinematography that captures the glory of Iceland, where the movie was largely filmed, is truly a visual pleasure to behold by itself -- as reality is truly ‘bigger’ than fantasy). Mitty begins to ‘wake up’ to the invigoration of adventure (and so, too, does the audience), and his daydreams begin to become few and far between. The quest to find Sean is mightier than Mitty’s self-imposed trappings, and finally, he grasps onto hope for his own future.
‘Mitty’ is far from a perfect film and does not really fulfill the early Oscar buzz it once had. But, somehow, a more mature Stiller has captured the transcendent elements of hope, love, and wonder and packaged them into a film with a rare family-friendly PG rating. ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ is rated 4 of 5 stars (‘recommended’), and is an enjoyable choice for your family this holiday season.
'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ is rated PG for ‘some crude comments, language and action violence.’
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