There are some movies that hit you at just the right moment, and make you fall in love instantly. Garden State and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind are two that immediately spring to mind as films that I fell in love with after only one viewing. I can now happily add The Secret Life of Walter Mitty to that list. This represents many of the reasons I love film so much, and deserves much more praise than it has gotten.
Ben Stiller plays the aggressively average Walter Mitty, who works at Life Magazine. He is given a set of negatives from Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn) just like has happened a hundred times in the past. The difference is that this time O’Connell has taken what he calls “the quintessence of Life” in negative number 25. He heard that Life Magazine was about to release its last magazine in print, and he thinks #25 should be the cover photo. The problem is that negative #25 is missing. Neither Mitty nor his partner, Hernando (Adrian Martinez), can find the negative anywhere.
Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott with a giant beard), who is overseeing the transition from print to online, and in the meantime, laying off many of the “non-essential” workers, insists on seeing the picture. Mitty decides that he will track down O’Connell to see if he simply forgot to include the negative in the first place. He follows the clues that he has around him, and his average, day-dreaming life is turned upside down.
It’s easy to dismiss this film from reading a summary of the story, but that would be a major mistake. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is so much more than an average-Joe-turned-adventurer story. It’s about taking chances, doing something different, and living life to its fullest. It’s about really living instead of skirting by on the sidelines. It is a beautiful story about love, life, and happiness without all of the expected sap that usually follows in stories like this.
I’m a sucker for comedic actors taking on straight roles, and Ben Stiller is absolutely incredible as Walter Mitty. He makes the man likable, and relatable, and he had me rooting for him the entire film. His love interest in the movie, Kristen Wiig, is great as well. She’s sweet, charming, and feels like a perfect fit next to Walter. Patton Oswalt is also in the movie, and though his character is odd as hell – he plays an eHarmony phone operator – he does a really nice job, especially since he is only on-screen for a few minutes (most of his “screen time” is voiceover work as Walter talks to him on the phone). Even the smaller, supporting roles of Walter’s sister and mother are memorable, and help round out this world that Mitty lives in, and allows the viewer to get lost in the story.
Mitty has these moments where he “zones out”, as his sister calls it, and sees himself in these larger than life moments like jumping off a subway stop into an apartment unit across the street, crashing through the window, grabbing a dog, and saving its life right before the building blows up behind him. It’s clear that Mitty has dreams of something bigger than himself, and once he starts on his journey, these moments start to disappear. He is living life instead of dreaming about it, and these fantasies mean less to him as the film goes on, and eventually stop completely. I loved the way these are handled, and though they looked hokey in the trailer, play an important role in understanding the man that was Walter Mitty, and the man that is Walter Mitty at the end of the film.
The cinematography and shooting locations are simply stunning. Every shot is beautiful, especially once Mitty starts his adventure. I love being swept away by beautiful scenery in a film, and Secret Life has some of the best I’ve seen in a while. These open, vast, green landscapes mixed with the incredible soundtrack make for a hypnotic experience. I was completely swept away by virtually every minute of Secret Life, and that’s what I hope for every time I put a movie into my player.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a special film. It dares to deal in old themes – love, the meaning of life, finding happiness – but is smart and creative enough to give these old themes new life. Once the credits hit and I discovered that not only did Ben Stiller do a fabulous job in front of the camera, but he also directed this gem, I was floored. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is Stiller’s master work, plain and simple. It deserves to be seen and talked about way more than it has been. Hopefully this finds new life on Blu-ray, and it earns the following that it deserves. You owe it to yourself to see this film. It may not hit you as heavily as it did me, but the acting, the cinematography, the shooting locations, the story, and the soundtrack are so great that I cannot imagine someone not being swept away by this film. Every frame is immersive in one way or another, and Mitty proves that taking the red pill – or car – is always the right choice.