Ben Stiller stars as Walter Mitty – a photo editor and manager of film negatives at Life magazine. Most of his time is spent working with Life’s legendary, swashbuckling photojournalist, Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn), who Walter somewhat wishes he could be (What do I have to do to be known as a swashbuckling movie critic? It sounds so cool to be called swashbuckling.).
Walter is a bit of a nebbish who cowers in the face of life and never fulfilled his dreams of seeing the world. Instead, he fantasizes about being the heroic man he wants to be, saying the things he would like to say and taking the actions a tough guy would take. Also, he longs for a beautiful co-worker, Cheryl (Kristin Wiig), he can’t muster the courage to take out on a date.
As the staff is informed Life magazine will cease publishing, Sean has sent a special photo to Walter that is being touted as the perfect final cover. Sean bills it as the greatest photo he has ever captured. Of course, it is lost, and Walter is forced through quite convoluted circumstances, to travel the globe to find Sean and discover where this final photo might be.
Can Walter find Sean?
What is the photo?
Bless poor Ben Stiller because his heart is in the right place. It’s the execution of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty that is lacking.
As star and director of the movie, Stiller wants to create a film with those life affirming and life changing themes about seizing the day and living life to the fullest, but the story gets all muddled up along the way. Stiller and writer Steve Conrad have trouble weaving together the plot about Walter’s journey and the love story in ways that the romance comes off as a prerequisite instead of a compelling part of Walter’s growth. Plus, those fantasy sequences sometimes are cute, but don’t add much to the movie.
Then, Walter’s journey is filled with much too convenient plots twists and happenstance to be believable. It adds to the plodding feel of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. For a film about adventure, we sure could use a little more, especially as the movie drags horribly towards a mush of an ending in the last act. The first two acts are fine enough, but that last third of the movie feels tacked on in an attempt to wrap up the love story and takes too long to do it.
Sadly, we are also saddled with a poorly executed villain. Adam Scott comes along for this ride as the corporate ax man brought in to fire people at Life and manage the transition to something new. It should be a juicy role (especially these days) as he becomes instantly unlikable for his job, but also for his mocking of our put upon hero, Walter. However, Scott is cartoonish. I think much of it is the writing. I think more of it is the poor dye job on the beard he either grew or was forced to wear to make him seem more villainous (Do beards instantly mean you are evil? Doesn’t Santa kind of contradict that stereotype?).
As a director, Stiller fills The Secret Life of Walter Mitty with some interesting images, but he needed to help beef up the script.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is rated PG for some crude comments, language and action violence