MeekinOnMovies On…The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

The
Secret Life of Walter Mitty was a short story about a man with an
oppressive wife, who constantly has flights of fancy in order to escape
her meandering omnipresence. Due to its popularity and name recognition,
a movie about the short story kicked around Hollywood for awhile,
getting attached to names like Jim Carey before eventually finding its way
into the hands of Ben Stiller, who stars and directs the very loose
adaptation.  

Stiller’s
a great choice, as he’s an actor who built almost his entire resume on
willingly embarrassing himself in front of Robert DeNiro, Owen Wilson,
Vince Vaughn, and most recently Eddie Murphy. In Meet The Parents he was
brilliant at generating palpable uncomfortable silences that made the
audience erupt with laughter. In Tropic Thunder he directed Robert
Downey Jr to an Oscar Nomination for a comedy. Heck, the only
reason Zoolander succeeded is because he played the titular character
with such a serious earnestness you legitimately felt bad for the guy.

These
are wonderful clubs to have in the bag if you’re making a light hearted
drama about a guy who thinks too much. And boy oh boy, does he come out
swinging.


The story finds zone-out prone Walter Mitty (Ben
Stiller) as a weak-willed, shy, introverted photo processor for Life
Magazine. Naturally he’s attracted to a girl at the office, and in a
nice touch is so socially paralyzed he doesn’t anguish about asking her
out, no, he anguishes about sending her a ‘wink’ on Match.com.

Walter
has fantasies ranging from saving the girl at work from a fire, to
living with her in a weird Benjamin Button (another loose adaptation of a
short story) kind of thing, and even little things like the right thing
to say at the right time. The less outlandish ones sometimes go on for
awhile before we snap back and see the scene was all in Walter’s head.
These scenes are irksome and annoying, not without purpose – ultimately
giving us a window in Walter’s world as both he and the audience feel
the jerked around by his emotions. 

Eventually
Walter finds himself butting heads with a new boss, slowly befriending
the girl at work, Cherly (Kristen Wiig) and is ultimately charged with
the task of locating a missing photo that’s going on the cover of final
print issue of Life Magazine.

That
little motivating factor takes him from the dour grays and pale blues
of the Life Magazine office to the welcoming lush green pastures of
Iceland and the bone chilling cold of the arctic – ultimately exploring
himself along the way. 

We’ve
seen this kind of thing before – a person goes on a journey of
unintended self discovery, often in exotic lands, and arrives at some
form of personal enlightenment. See About Schmidt, The Best Exotic
Marigold Hotel, Forest Gump, The Station Agent, and
we can toss in that Julia Roberts flick where she goes to India.
The
point is these flicks come in numerous permutations from buddy comedies
to feminist rallying calls to even classic stoner comedies. 

Stoner
comedy? Yep. The movie has a lot in common with John Cho’s arc from
Harold
and Kumar Go to White Castle if you replace weed with geeky
photography talk. There are moments of broad comedy, unexpected
enlightenment, uplifting resolution, and a drunk guy (not Neil Patrick
Harris) flies a helicopter! 

Walter and Harold’s change in outlook
doesn’t happen right away, and they aren’t so inept at the start of the
movie that their change is impossible, either. But most importantly
they’re uplifting in a way that doesn’t feel contrived or overtly
melodramatic. 

Especially
in Walter Mitty, where there are no grandstanding proclamations of love
or tell offs to the boss, and instead the confidence comes via posture
and eye contact. Ben Stiller looks almost like a completely different
person by the end of movie, and the change is so subtle you don’t notice
until you do, ya know? 

The
Secret World of Walter Mitty is a light hearted movie with a gentle
touch
that is entertaining enough for the masses, and speaks to a specific
kind
of soul who may stare at the wall too long or pour countless thoughts
into his coffee instead of his conversations. There’s a not-so-subtle
subtext in how Walter goes from the dingy
basement of a dying magazine to the top of a Himalayan mountain in the
span of a two hour movie, perhaps saying that the way he got there was
as simple as realizing he could.
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