Walter's secrets are out! But are they worth watching?
|"Yeah. She just farted."|
Ben Stiller got a $90 million budget to make The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which is based on a 1939 short story by James Thurber. Since the publication of that story, the term "Mittyesque" is used in various circles to describe people who prefer living in a fantasy world rather than the real one. After a brief google search, I learned that in a military context, the term refers to people who try to fake an impressive career.
"Mitteyesque," in the military sense, is the perfect term to describe Ben Stiller as a movie maker. His solipsistic approach to movie making is on full display as he plays Walter Mitty, a neurotic worker bee who can barely speak in real life because he's busy living a secret life in his head where he's the action hero/great lover/world's most interesting man.
The fantasy scenes are very well done. Stiller managed some great cinematography and action sequences for them. Every time he comes back to the real world, however, he finds that someone's been trying to talk to him or get his attention for several minutes while he was in fantasy land. The scenario repeats itself over and over again, making me wonder how he hadn't died in a car accident or been taken to a mental hospital years before we make his acquaintance at 42 years of age.
|"Boycott Sea World!"|
Kristin Wiig plays the woman that Walter fancies, and despite the fact that his behavior around her suggests a complete lack of ability to communicate, she finds him charming. She does her best to make the best out of a bad script, providing most of the laughs when she's in Walter's fantasies. I'm just not sure why she's into a guy who's immobile and mentally absent most of the time.
Adam Scott takes another turn playing a successful, wannabe-alpha-male dick in Walter's real life. Unfortunately, the writing is so bad that we're constantly beaten over the head with just how much of a dick he is in every scene. If he's not poking Walter in the skull, he's telling him what a loser weirdo he is. This movie is a dramedy, but it's tough to tell when Stiller was going for "funny" or "gripping" most of the time.
There are some bright spots besides the fantasy sequences. Patton Oswald phones in his character (in a good way) as a Match.com help staffer trying to get Walter to improve his online persona. There are cameos from Sean Penn, Joey Slotnick, and Conan O'Brien with Andy Richter. All of the performances, from Oswald to Richter, help salvage some comedy from an otherwise boring film.
|"Um. I didn't order this."|
The lessons this movie tries to teach are conveyed with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Stop wishing, start doing. Live your life. These messages are literally spelled out onscreen numerous times, and when it's clear that Walter is about to stop dreaming and start doing stuff, we're bashed over the head with Arcade Fire's "Wake Up."
There's enough to like in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty to warrant a rental, as long as you can put up with the pretentiousness. I never found myself cheering for Walter, but I know some people will. Like I said earlier, the fantasy sequences are very well done and look great in HD. If you have two hours to kill, there are certainly worse ways to do it.