Over the years Ben Stiller has established himself as a bankable star both in front and behind the camera. He has continued to churn them out in all genres taking on both roles in films including Cable Guy, Zoolander, and Tropic Thunder that while not all critical successes have all garnered a fan base. Now he is taking on the dual role again with his latest film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty that appears to be something different than what fans are used too, but does it work?
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty follows a day-dreamer who escapes his anonymous life by disappearing into a world of fantasies filled with heroism, romance and action. When his job along with that of his co-worker are threatened, he takes action in the real world embarking on a global journey that turns into an adventure more extraordinary than anything he could have ever imagined. The trailers for this film were full of imagery that showcased the imaginative world of Walter Mitty, but this movie is so much more. This version of the story ditched the musical numbers from the original and looked to stick closer to the original story. The trailers focused more on the dream sequences leaving out the emotional punch that this story actually has. There is a lot of substance to this movie and works really well, but there are a few places here that it held back when it could have pushed a little more. At first glance it appears that this is somewhat of a comedy and while it does possess some funny moments, including one poking fun at The Curious Case of Benjamin Button that’s pretty funny, it spends more time focusing on the emotional aspect. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as Stiller is great here both in front and behind the camera delivering a film about a person on a journey trying to find themselves instead of just the romance of it all. The rest of the cast do a good job with Kristen Wiig as the love interest who almost seems just as awkward as he is, but a bit more of a handle on life. Adam Scott delivers his usual deadpan style deliver that works well for his condescending nature of Mitty’s boss needed to further showcase his daily struggles. Shirley MacLaine and Patton Oswalt, who is mostly a voice on the phone play important parts to the story and while not big are important to his overall journey, but it’s Sean Penn who not only gives this film even more of a punch despite having very little screen time. He is easily the most important character outside of Mitty for this film in relation to Mitty’s journey and growth as well as the story itself. Visually this film is beautiful showcasing various landscapes that gives the overall film a more epic film. While over the top, the fantasy sequences are a lot of fun and if there was any criticism to the overall film is that there just weren’t enough of them. Thankfully the real life adventures he goes on somewhat make up for them.
This is one of those films that due to the promotions focusing on the fantastical world is going to probably lose some people. If you are stepping in to just witness the dreams of Mitty you will be entertained for a short while, but then quickly forced back into reality of his real personal struggle to find himself. Your best bet is to step into the film with little predetermined notion and just join the journey and let your own imagination expand and witness the changing persona of the Walter Mitty.