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The Secret is Out – a review of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Title: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Production Company: 20th Century Fox
Run Time: 114 minutes
Director: Ben Stiller
Stars: Ben Stiller, Kristin Wiig, Adam Scott, Shirley MacLaine, Sean Penn
Summary: The parable of Walter Mitty is a simple one. We can let life pass us by and dream about what we want or we can take the steps to achieve the realization of our dreams.
Hollywood remakes either hit their mark spot on or, as is in many cases, turn out to be completely unnecessary.
In this case, Ben Stiller not only manages to succeed with this remake, but he also hits all the right marks when he put this movie together, managing to keep the audience engaged while tugging at the heart strings and creating a movie that’s fit for all ages with nothing to offend anyone.
It starts out innocuously enough as Walter and his co-workers at the magazine called Life learn that the print edition is about to be abolished in favor of publishing solely online – a fate not unfamiliar to a number of store-bought publications.
It turns out that world adventurer and photographer Sean O’Connell (a remarkably subdued Sean Penn) has sent in a photo that he describes as the quintessence of life and that it deserves to be on the front cover of the final print edition.
There’s only one problem. The negative is missing.
The blame falls on Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) who is responsible for the handling of the negatives. Walter is a daydreamer who often drifts off into fantasy where he sees himself as a romantic adventurer saving the world and winning the hand of the girl of his dreams who just happens to work at Life magazine too.
Mitty must venture out into the real world in search of O’Connell and the lost negative. The journey will take him to exotic locales on an adventure that many of us will only dream about in our lives.
And that is the true spirit of this movie. As one Life comes to an end, another life is beginning for Walter Mitty. One where he isn’t afraid to see the beauty and the world around him.
Ben Stiller fell into the role and the director’s chair after several other Hollywood types had to exit the project for various reasons. Mitty was to be played by, at some points, Owen Wilson, Jim Carrey, Will Farrell (heaven forbid) and Sacha Baron Cohen and Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean) was supposed to direct.
Fortuitously, the other actors all had other engagements and Verbinski was working on The Lone Ranger when the project was green lighted. So, Stiller took the helm. The result is visually stunning and eloquently artistic.
Stiller is also a much more laid back actor than the others that were considered which makes him the ideal Walter Mitty. You can picture him blending into the background, not standing out. That lends a true sense of discovery when Mitty manages to pry open the shell in which his life has remained hidden from the world.
Kristin Wiig often plays ditzy types (Anchorman II) so this character is a welcome release for her. As Mitty’s dream girl, she seems almost nerdish, a trait which makes her all the more attractive not only to Mitty, but for audiences who can relate as well.
By contrast, Adam Scott presents just the right amount of smugness and smarminess as the head of the print-to-online transition team. His disdain for Mitty becomes increasingly evident throughout the story. The ending of the movie is a fitting slap in the face to the powers-that-be who revel in downsizing print media journalistic payrolls.
This story may be the fluff that we’ve come to expect from Hollywood. But it’s uplifting fluff, and in that, it deserves our consideration and respect. And visually, the scenery is as memorably compelling as anything we’ve seen before. I personally enjoyed the stylized approach.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was ideally timed for release during the Christmas holiday. This is a movie that will enrich the spirit and invigorate the soul. It strives to entertain and not offend, which is a rarity in Hollywood today.
A comparison with the original film version featuring Danny Kaye may be apropos, but I also think it would be an unfair comparison since the movies were made for different times. I will instead grade this movie on its own merits.
This may not win any awards but it’s just plain fun and I give it a well deserved 5 out of 5 stars.