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The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty

Reviews
by Leonard Maltin
December 25, 2013 3:34 AM
3 Comments
  • |
Photo Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

First, the good news: this isn’t a stupid comedy. In fact, it’s barely a comedy at all. That’s the bad news. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty doesn’t seem to know what it is. Although it takes place in the present day, it centers around a nerdy worker-bee in the photo morgue at Life magazine, which in real life went out of business years ago. The major plot point of a famous, photo-centric publication transitioning to an online business seems oddly anachronistic, if not downright irrelevant.

As for the influence of James Thurber, whose 1939 short story put “Walter Mitty” into the vernacular, the device of an ordinary fellow having heroic daydreams is employed at the beginning of the movie and then discarded, as this Mitty embarks on an ambitious real-life adventure. So much for Thurber.

Seeds are planted throughout the film that don’t bear fruit—or have a chance to ripen. Yet the movie is never dull. Screenwriter Steven Conrad and director/star Ben Stiller take us on an eye-opening journey, as Walter Mitty sets off in search of an elusive, globe-trotting photographer (Sean Penn). He travels to Greenland, then Iceland, and engages in a series of escapades that reveal his perseverance, bravery, and athleticism. Meanwhile, he stays in touch by cell phone with the girl of his dreams (coworker Kristen Wiig) back in New York and his contact at eHarmony (Patton Oswalt) in Los Angeles.

Where does all this lead? To a somewhat conventional happy ending. Have we gained something along the way? I don’t think so, unless you count the fact that knowing how to skateboard can come in handy at the most unexpected moments.

I’ve never been a great fan of the 1947 movie with Danny Kaye, so I can’t accuse Stiller of desecrating a classic. The trailer for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty distills its best moments and makes it look like a sensational movie, which it is not. It’s not bad, or unwatchable, but it’s not funny enough to be a good comedy, or fantastic enough to qualify as a fantasy. It’s an idea in limbo that’s never fully realized. 

         

 

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3 Comments

  • Patrick | July 6, 2014 1:44 AMReply

    This is a bit late in the game, since this movie has been out for a long time, but I really liked it. I think the message is that we should stop living in our heads and live in the moment. Walter spent the movie searching for the "essence of life" in a photograph, some idea, but in the end, Sean Penn's character really makes a point about just staying in a moment, rather than getting distracted by other things. At the end of the movie, Walter stops daydreaming and starts living in the present. He's stopped searching for some extraordinary life and realizes that he had what he's searching for all along with him (the negative in his wallet was the metaphor). The movie wasn't about the colorful world in his head, but about casting it off in favor of living life. Just my two cents. Thanks for the reviews. I really enjoy them.

  • mike schlesinger | December 25, 2013 4:57 PMReply

    This appears to be another example of studio goons dismissing a classic as crummy and thinking they can do a much better job...and then they fail miserably. Ironic that it opened on the very same day as 47 RONIN, another overpriced epic that degrades its predecessor by substituting an orgy of CGI for the very story elements that made the original so appealing in the first place.

  • Paul Wolske | December 25, 2013 3:20 PMReply

    Don't you think you should revisit Danny Kaye's 1947 "Secret Life of Walter Mitty" and 1954's "White Christmas" which classic movie buffs love, except you and Leslie Halliwell (hater of most Hollywood films) apparently.

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