Thursday, January 23, 2014

Review of THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY: Ben Stiller Grows Up

January 23, 2014

"The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" was a short story written by James Thurber way back in 1939. It was about a henpecked man who escapes into a fantasy world of danger and heroics to compensate for the depressingly dull life he led in reality.

Screen writer Steve Conrad adapts the title and the name and over-active imagination of the main character and tells his own original story. An uncharacteristically mature and contemplative Ben Stiller directs and stars in this "labour of love" of a movie project. There is nary a trace of the Ben Stiller in "There's Something About Mary", "Zoolander" or "Dodgeball" in this special film.

Walter Mitty is a timid guy who tends to "space out" and enter into a world of his own where he is able to do wondrously heroic exploits. He was so much of an introvert such that he would rather join an online dating service to meet this girl he fancies, Cheryl, who was also working in his same office.

One day, he misplaced the precious negative of the photograph meant to be the cover of the last issue of Life Magazine. As his job is on the line, Walter needs to look for Sean, the elusive globe-trotting photographer who took that missing photo. Upon deducing that Sean was in Greenland, Mitty suddenly decides to throw all caution to the wind and just go on a difficult quest to track Sean down. This will be the biggest adventure of his lifetime, a life-changing one at that.

Visually, this film is perfect with its breathtaking cinematography and unobtrusive special effects. Many scenes, particularly those showing Walter skateboarding along highways in Iceland, or climbing the snowy peaks of the Himalayas, were very memorably shot with unique camera range and angles, extolling the beauty of the world around us.

The script does fall into melodrama and sentimentality, but I did not mind this at all. Ben Stiller was very good as Walter, capturing his shyness and cluelessness so sensitively. I liked Walter's moments with his mother, played by Shirley McLaine with pleasant restraint. I also liked Walter's awkward romance with Cheryl played by Kristen Wiig. She was also very relaxed and natural here in a straight role, very much contrasting from her quirky breakout role in "Bridesmaids."

Once we reach the second half of the film when Walter actually stops having fantasies and does things for real already. I realize of course that this was the point of the film, that dreams were there to be fulfilled in real life. I just felt it somehow lost the spirit of the source short story at that point.

Despite comparisons with "Forrest Gump," "Walter Mitty" admittedly does not exactly reach those lofty heights. However, upon watching this film, you will wonder how something so beautiful-looking could have been totally shut-out from Oscar or any other award consideration.  The spectacular photography of the vibrant and exotic settings demand that you see this film on the big screen.  

This was an entertaining wholesome and feel-good film that will bring us to places we rarely see on screen, visually and emotionally. We will all identify since there is a Walter Mitty in all of us who desires to get that chance to live out our wildest dreams. 8/10.

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