Feb 3, 2014

[Movies] The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)

When we first caught the trailer for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty at the cinema, it certainly struck a cord. It was clearly aiming to be one of those surrealist pieces that could either be pretty amazing or sadly disappointing. It's not an easy type of movie to capture and bring to life on the silver screen, but they do tend to be notable projects.

And while there was a lot in this movie that interested me, there were also key points that gave me some concerns. A lot of the had to do with Ben Stiller and how this might be some sort of a niche product on his part while he tries to take his career in a new direction. We've seen a lot of popular comedians venture into this realm including the likes of Jim Carey and Steve Carell.

It's a mixed bag really in terms of how such movies fare. Some folks make the transition rather gracefully and everything just seems to fall into place. Others struggle with how to approach the subject matter and flail around a bit. This movie didn't overly impress me, but I do see what they tried to accomplish. They certainly had admirable goals, but there was also something about this movie that felt a little hollow or lacking. And while the movie was certainly interesting and at times entertaining, but it wasn't quite a knock out in that sense either.

Synopsis: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is the second film adaptation of the James Thurber short story of the same name. This movie was directed by Ben Stiller, who also starred in the movie. The screenplay was written by Steve Conrad.

Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) is a film negative assets manager at Life Magazine. He often gets lost in his own thoughts - typically fantastical exploits that feature him as some amazing hero and impressing co-worker Cheryl (Kristin Wiig). But none of these daydreams are even remotely real given Walter is a pretty quiet and reserved individual. He has never traveled anywhere and he can't even strike up the courage to ask Cheryl out on a date.

But then it's announced that Life Magazine is finally ending and photojournalist Sean O'Connell (Sean Penn) informs the editorial team that he has sent in that captures the quintessence of Life and recommends that it be used as the cover of the magazine's final issue. Walter has a bit of a correspondence relationship with Sean that has developed over the years and the negative is actually sent to him along with a wallet meant as a gift. But when Sean looks for the negative, it does not appear to be with the rest of the film that Sean had sent in. Now Walter only has the other photographs sent along in the series as potential clues to where Sean might be and he commits to finding him in order to locate the missing negative.

The visuals of the movie are pretty amazing, without a doubt. You've probably already seen a lot of them in the trailer like when you see him jump off a train platform in order to land in a building and save a baby before everything goes up in flames. Or there's Walter stepping out of a photo set some icy mountain in full snow gear as he finally approaches Cheryl. And all these sequences only happen in his head - thus we normally cut to Walter just standing there while everyone else waits for him to come back to the conversation. There's a very obvious and significant manifestation of his little mental trips that has everyone else all curious about him.

The scoring and soundtrack for this movie is also rather impressive. They all help build a stronger narrative and really help convey key emotional moments that really take you on a bit of a leap of faith with Walter. We are all witnesses to his little journey in search of Sean and naturally into himself as he finds himself needing to overcome many different fears into order to get closer to Sean. Walter is primarily motivated by the need to secure his job just as Life Magazine is closing, plus there's the genuine curiosity as to what the photo might possibly be.

Walter does manage a few calls back to the office while he continues his search and his point of contact somehow becomes Cheryl, given he let her in on the secret of his need to seek Sean down. And this becomes an interesting venue to talk to her more, even though for the most part they're just trying to decipher the clues that Walter uncovers during his search. Kristin Wiig has already demonstrated a number of times that she can manage this sort of a role. Although whether good or bad, her characterization of Cheryl was very similar to how she had portrayed the protagonist in Bridesmaids.

The movie isn't bad, but there's just something about Stiller's performance that didn't quite bring life to all the nuances of Walter. As much as he's supposed to be this sad, single introverted man, it doesn't mean he needs to be totally boring and at times unemotional. I know Stiller has always been a bit of the "straight man" in comedy situations or known for his ability to manage physical humor. In this case we could have done with a few more straightforward shots instead of all the different efforts to make the movie seem all clever.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is nicely poignant and is yet another movie with the fundamental message about the need to get out of your home and live life to the fullest. It's a story that we've seen told a number of times before and this movie didn't quite add all that much value to that recurring narrative concept.

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