The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Directed By: Ben Stiller

Starring: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Shirley MacLaine, Adam Scott, Kathryn Hahn, and Sean Penn

-“To see things thousands of miles away, things hidden behind walls and within rooms, things dangerous to come to, to draw closer, to see and be amazed.”
LIFE Magazine Motto

Everybody wants to be an actor-director these days.  Clint Eastwood and Woody Allen were once the exceptions.  Since Ben Affleck took home the Best Picture Oscar for Argo earlier this year, I can't help but notice an uptick in actors jumping behind the camera.  Nat Faxon and Jim Rash got in the game earlier this year with The Way, Way Back.  Lake Bell directed her comedy vehicle In a World... later in the summer.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt even jumped in the director's chair for his porn addiction comedy Don Jon in the fall.  Now, we have Ben Stiller directing himself in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.  I'm all for professionals expanding their skills, but let's not put directors out of business. Everybody can't be the man behind the camera or show us the way they see things, and Stiller proves it here.

Checking out eHarmony for the first time, Walter Mitty (Stiller) pulls up the profile of his new colleague Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig).  Smitten by this woman, he sees that she's only interested in men who are either adventurous, brave, and creative or simply employed.  Seeing that he fits the bill for the latter description, Walter tries to send Cheryl a wink.  Things don't go quite as planned, and an error message pops up on his laptop.  After repeated failures to wink at Cheryl, he calls Todd Maher (Patton Oswalt), a customer representative at eHarmony, for assistance.  Though Walter is concerned with the wink error, Todd is more concerned with sprucing up Walter's bare profile.  Interestingly enough, Walter will do just that in the very near future as opposed to the daydreaming he's been doing all his life.

When Walter goes to work the very next day, he learns that his employer LIFE Magazine has been acquired and that major layoffs are imminent.  On the elevator he meets Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott), the managing director of the transition and his new boss.  At a meeting later that morning, Ted announces that LIFE's next print issue will be its final and that the magazine will be exclusively published online henceforth.  A negative asset manager for the magazine, Walter receives a new roll of film from longtime photojournalist Sean O'Connell (Sean Penn) upon arriving at his office.  It's supposed to contain "The Quintessence of Life", the 25th negative in the roll and a magnificent photograph to be used for LIFE's final issue.  Instead of the prized photograph, Walter finds a gift from Sean, a wallet with the LIFE motto embroidered on it.  Though he's thankful for the gift, Walter needs to find negative No. 25.  Otherwise, his already insecure job will become even more insecure.  As such, he begins an adventure piecing together clues to figure out where in the world Sean O'Connell is.  Meanwhile, his sister Odessa (Kathryn Hahn) supervises the move of their mother Edna's (Shirley MacLaine) piano to her new villa at a nursing home.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty should be a sprawling adventure in the tradition of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Forrest Gump.  As it stands, the movie is a muddled cross-continental comedy-drama in which Ben Stiller only tries to capture the quintessence of that short little man Walter Mitty.  Lacking the ambitious, creative directorial vision necessary to give us just that, this film certainly does not get a blessing from me.  With Stiller and Kristen Wiig leading the cast, there are certainly some laughs, but the film is devoid of the heart that should be at the very core of it.  All in all, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is watchable but not lovable.

Walter Mitty clocks in at just under two hours.  For a film full of sharks, volcanoes, and adventurous daydreaming that takes us to Greenland, Iceland, and Afghanistan, that's not saying much.  What I mean by this is that the pacing of the film is a bit too rushed.  To craft a richer, grander cinematic experience, Stiller needs to take his time and let the beauty of the world he's showing us speak for itself.  What I also mean by this is that he needs to develop more multi-dimensional characters and stay true to James Thurber's 1939 short story.  Stiller is just a short little man who doesn't know how to wake up from his daydreaming and smell the roses, while Wiig is a damsel who haunts Walter's imagination.  There’s nothing more to these characters.  Moreover, the film lacks the depth necessary to honor the story of Walter Mitty.

It's clear that I have my gripes with Ben Stiller's interpretation of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.  Though the film gets by on the charms and chemistry of Stiller and Wiig, Walter Mitty does not offer the fun, breathtaking adventure that it should.  The adventure of which I speak is more of a ghost cat.  Like the elusive snow leopard Sean Penn's character Sean O'Connell is tracking, this sense of adventure and excitement is something that Stiller just can't find for his movie.  Because of this, we get a mediocre adaptation of Thurber's acclaimed short story.  Because of this, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty gets a 0.06% rating.  Have a few glasses of eggnog with this one.  Merry Christmas STMR readers!