Considering the high caliber of talent behind the making of the film, plus the huge special effects and the fact that the famous title itself has an in-built promise of fun things to come, this new remake of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a major disappointment.
Very loosely based on the 1939 short story by humorist James Thurber – actually, it’s Walter Mitty in name only, the plot bares no resemblance – this new version has the famous day dreamer (Ben Stiller) working in New York City as an employee for Life Magazine. It’s the final days for Life, the whole enterprise is about to go digital with its premiere on-line edition. This means changes, re-organization, and worst of all, cutbacks.
True to its original creation, Mitty handles uncomfortable situations by zoning out and imagining a different scenario to whatever is bothering him. When he meets the new, young managing director (Adam Scott) there’s an instant antagonistic feeling between the two men. “You know who looks good in a beard?” asks Mitty to his beard wearing boss during one of Mitty’s zoning out moments. “Dumbledore, not you.” In his imagination, everyone laughs as he embarrasses the new manager – in Mitty’s imagination he always comes out on top – only in reality he doesn’t say a word. It’s all in the mind.
“Have you ever done anything noteworthy or mentionable?” asks an on-line dating service operator who tries to help Mitty set up an account. The answer is, of course, no. Mitty has never done anything other than work at Life for sixteen years, but in his mind he’s a life saving champion, an astronaut with his face on the cover of his own magazine, and anything else that elevates him into something that he’s not. “Hey, dream machine,” his boss calls him to catch his attention during another zoning out session.
It’s only when a Kodak negative sent from freelance photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn) goes missing that Mitty is forced to go on a real adventure. The missing negative is the one chosen to go on the cover of the final print issue of Life and without it Mitty will be out of a job. So the man decides to finally take matters into his own hands. In order to find the missing picture, and to impress fellow office-worker Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig) Mitty needs to find the photographer, and that means setting out on a journey to Greenland, to Iceland and finally up in the Himalayas. Or does he?
The adventure that Mitty embarks upon has all the hallmarks of one his daydreams to the point where you start to wonder if the film is about to pull the rug from under your feet and reveal that the whole thing is really another epic zoning out moment. He jumps from a helicopter driven by a drunken pilot into the ocean, is attacked by a shark, and plays football (soccer) with some locals during an idyllic sunset by a mountain. “Hey, Todd,” Mitty says into his cell while talking to that same on-line dating service operator (Patton Oswalt) on the other side of the world. “I can’t really talk. I’m on my way to a volcano.”
It’s difficult to categorize Walter Mitty. It’s a fantasy – that’s for sure – but it’s also a comic adventure, only it’s not particularly funny, more like mild amusement, and as an adventure it’s not particularly exciting. Mitty really does go to these extreme lengths to find the photographer and that missing negative, but it grows continually tiring with every passing minute. After years of day dreaming, lots of things finally happen to Walter Mitty; they’re just not particularly engaging or exciting. It’s just stuff that happens.
There are occasional nice touches that add flavor to the theme of a man filling his empty life with brave and adventurous thoughts. One of the imagination covers of Life has Mitty in an astronaut’s helmet with the caption ‘Making of a Brave Man’ printed underneath, plus we even catch a glimpse of a large black and white fifties shot of Peter Sellers in the background, an actor famous for embracing his roles with colorful and well-drawn characters but whose real life we later discovered was that of an empty cipher in constant need of filling.
“Now at 18,000 feet,” Mitty scribbles in his notebook as he continues to climb the Himalayas. “My mind drifts like the snow.” After about thirty minutes, yours may do the same.
MPAA Rating: PG Length: 125 Minutes Overall Rating: 5 (out of 10)