The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is an odd movie. It is nice that Ben Stiller has changed as a director, possibly even matured and evolved, moving from broad comedies to sweetly inspirational parables. I just think it is a little strange that it happened mid film.
The early fantasy scenes are overblown and extreme with humour based on the ridiculous, not unlike Zoolander and Tropic Thunder. This clearly isn’t a problem, those are two very funny films, but even from the start they jar with the tone of the rest of the film which seems to be telling a bittersweet story of a man who missed the opportunities of life and has become a pathological daydreamer. Taken together it all seems very indecisive.
Then about half way through this tonal struggled ends and the film becomes a pretty straight forward, romantic, story of adventure and personal reinvention. From this point on The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is inspiring, moving (not very funny) and actually really good. You almost forget that thirty minutes earlier this same movie was going the route of the laziest comedies and actually parodying other films.
That said the movie also loses some stuff in its move toward the conventional. There is a really nice trick of incorporating words into the scenery that starts in the opening credits but then reoccurs at other points. It’s been done before, in Doctor Who and Easy A, and works particularly well here although it is jettisoned as we move toward realism. There is also a nice sense of not really knowing what is real at any point but that gets abandoned too.
It is quite likely that all of this is 100% deliberate as Walter stops living a stylised fantasy life and starts living a stylish real one but if it is a directorial trick it doesn’t quite work. Fortunately none of this stops The Secret Life of Walter Mitty being a really enjoyable film.
The short story was always a little tragic as the hero’s fantasies never truly deliver him from the mundanity of his life. I’ve not read it for some time but, if memory serves me right, he actually dreams of being killed at the end. This film goes the other way and Walt’s journey is a lot more uplifting.
Ben Stiller is the right actor for the part, being well able to play it both straight and funny and, while I may have criticised some of his choices, as a director he does give us some beautiful landscapes.
Elsewhere in the cast Kristen Wiig is just lovely, Adam Scott sports the worst beard since Senaca Crane, Sean Penn has the manliest beard since The Dude and of course Shirley MacLaine never let’s you down.
All in all a very enjoyable, if inconsistent, two hours.
Bechdel Test Score = 3 but only just, 2 really.
Is this one for the kids ?
Refreshingly for a film not particularly aimed at children, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a PG. There is some comedy fighting, no partial nudity, a tiny amount of swearing and only one slight example of suggestive humour when the hero mishears someone saying ‘eruption’. As long as your children remember that they shouldn’t fly a helicopter when drunk then I don’t think they’ll be too badly influenced by the film although they are unlikely to be interested if they are less than seven.