SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY, THE
The day-dreaming Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) escapes his dull, anonymous life by disappearing into a world of fantasies filled with heroism, romance and action. When his job is at risk, he takes action in the real world embarking on a global journey that turns into an adventure more extraordinary than anything he could have imagined.
Review by Louise Keller:
This remake directed by and starring Ben Stiller starts well as we are tugged in and out of the real and imagined lives of the mild-mannered, daydreaming Walter Mitty, but quickly loses its charms by an inability to maintain its edgy, quirky and humorous tone. The film sinks into the trap of taking itself too seriously and while Walter's uncharacteristically heroic actions and reactions during the fantasy sequences are funny in the context, the filmmakers seem to want to make him into a fully fledged hero before we are ready to believe it possible.
The best part about the initial scenes is that we, like Walter, get lost in his fantasies with a seamless leap, offering an invisible line between reality and fantasy. While the 1947 version of the screen adaptation of James Thurber's short story relied on the brilliant comic timing of the multi-talented, kooky Danny Kaye, a lighter touch by Stiller might have been a better option with more Walter Mitty's 'secret life' and a script that was true to the character.
Adventurous, brave and creative may be Walter Mitty's mantra but he is only able to live-out his aspirations when he is 'zoned out' - or daydreaming. Steve Conrad's screenplay is set in the topical reality of the dying age of print publishing, when Life Magazine, with its iconic imagery is about to go digital and its staff to line up for collect severance pay. Good idea; bad execution. It is telling that beside the oversized posters of past covers with such icons as Marilyn Monroe, JFK, John Lennon, Walter fantasises being the epitome of a brave man - as he walks past an imagined photograph of himself. After all, the quintessence is what the film is all about.
Kristen Wiig is a lovely presence as Cheryl Melhoff, the object of Walter's affections and with whom some of the most enjoyable scenes take place. The running gag involving Todd (Patton Oswalt) from E Harmony, who keeps ringing his new client while trying to fill in Walter's symbolic blank profile is funny and has a surprising payoff. Good to see Shirley MacLaine on screen again as Walter's mum, who bakes good cakes and keeps her son's nick-nacks while Kathryn Hahn as his tough and tender sister is bright, bubbly and boisterous.
But Walter's adventures in pursuit of the missing photo negative sent by reclusive, superstar photographer Sean O'Connell (Sean Penn) are played with unfortunate gravity. The first adventure - in Greenland - has a nice zany edge about it and includes a drunken helicopter pilot (”lafur ”lafsson) and a fantasy sequence in which Wiig sings David Bowie's Major Tom with great appeal. But the Iceland sequence when Walter becomes a super-hero just doesn't work. This is not Die Hard. It's a shame the film isn't as inspired as the Sean Penn casting; it fizzles to a dull thud, with little to engage us except for the snazzy production design with its effective use of word-messages.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Never mind that this film trashes the James Thurber material in favour of its own stories, nor that the central setting of Life magazine is a callous (mis)use of a revered brand; the harshest thing I can say about the film is that it's boring. And after castrating the management of Life when they close down the print edition, the writers devise a resolution for one of the key plot points by painting the same soulless management as caring and sensitive people with sound value judgment. Confused or cynical?
What was a whimsical but slightly dark concept about a timid man with heroic daydreams has become a Hollywood blockbuster with music several sizes too big for it, like a child in an adult's overcoat. Ben Stiller takes cinematic shortcuts and fudges details to bustle the film into an adventure for a man who changes from a mouse to a superhero. Of course, this is nonsense; if he had it in him he wouldn't have been Walter Mitty the Insignificant in the first place.
Stiller's screen charisma helps to smooth over some of these wrinkles, as does Kristen Wiig's (as co-worker Cheryl), although their scenes together are woefully dull, the awkward moments not entirely fictional, one feels.
It's tempting to read some historical biffo into this effort: the 1947 movie with Danny Kaye was produced by Samuel Goldwyn - father of one of this film's producers. In a letter to Life magazine, Thurber was highly critical of the adaptation, having had his suggestions ignored by Goldwyn (according to Thurber). Here is Goldwyn Jr taking another crack at Thurber's work and I am fairly confident Thurber would not approve of this one, either. Nor would the management folks at Life magazine who are pilloried and insulted in a corporate slur.
Good things in the film include scenes with a wonderful, boozy helicopter pilot in Greenland, leading into a choppy ocean drop with attendant thrills and some humorous rescue characters, great landscapes around the Himalayas, and a well written, directed and performed sequence with Sean Penn as the elusive but famed freelance photographer with whom Walter has developed a distant bond. But you'll need patience.
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SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY, THE (PG)
CAST: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Adam Scott, Kathryn Hahn, Patton Oswalt, Shirley MacLaine,
PRODUCER: Stuart Cornfeld, Samuel Goldwyn Jr, John Goldwyn, Ben Stiller
DIRECTOR: Ben Stiller
SCRIPT: Steve Conrad (short story by James Thurber)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Stuart Dryburgh
EDITOR: Greg Hayden
MUSIC: Theodore Shapiro
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jeff Mann
RUNNING TIME: 114 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 26, 2013