Sunday, October 06, 2013

“The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty” – Movie Review



At the midpoint of this year’s New York Film Festival, I had a chance to see the world premiere of the festival’s centerpiece presentation, the comedy-drama, “The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty”, starring Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig and Sean Penn.


When a man is threatened with the loss of both his job and the woman with whom he’s infatuated, he sets out on the adventure of his life to rescue them both – but will his efforts succeed or turn out to be for nothing?


As the manager of the library of photographs owned by Life Magazine, daydreaming Walter Mitty (Stiller), learns that his job – and that of many of his colleagues – is suddenly in jeopardy when the magazine is acquired by another company and its new owners’ plans are to cease publication of the print version in favor of going all-digital to publish an on-line edition only.  This not only threatens Mitty’s livelihood, but also, his budding relationship with co-worker Cheryl (Wiig), after whom he’s been pining ever since she recently started working at Life.

Unexpectedly, an opportunity arises when Mitty receives a package from the magazine’s star photojournalist, Sean O'Connell (Penn), who sends him the set of negatives from his latest photo shoot.  O’Connell has communicated to the management that one of the negatives is what he recommends the magazine use as their next – and final – cover for the periodical’s last print publication.  Unfortunately, the negative for that particular shot is mysteriously missing from the collection he sent Mitty.  Inspired by both Cheryl’s encouragement and his longstanding working relationship with O’Connell to snap out of his rich fantasy life, Mitty decides to seek out the globetrotting photographer in order to secure the missing negative.

Beginning in Greenland, Mitty tracks down O’Connell in Iceland – but before he has a chance to actually confront him, an emergency forces him to return home.  Shortly thereafter, Mitty discovers clues that lead him to believe O’Connell may be in The Himalayas; despite the haunting specter of job loss in his future, his obsession forces him to proceed to the vast mountain range, where a couple of Sherpas guide him to the likely place where they believe O’Connell may be found.  But when Mitty finally meets O'Connell, will he be able to help him locate the missing negative?



Ben Stiller is one of the country’s biggest movie stars and also one of its best actors (his Fockers movies notwithstanding); while he has years ago added filmmaker to his résumé, “The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty” will likely not be among his most significant achievements, although it is by no means a motion picture that is entirely without value – scheduled to officially open on Christmas Day, this is sure to be popular among families during the holiday season (possibly even a hit, depending on what other fare it will wind up competing against). 

While starting out looking as though it is going to be a simple romantic comedy, “Walter Mitty” takes certain dramatic turns – at times, seeming like an adventure movie, other times taking a more philosophical approach, trying to provide us with The Meaning Of Life (with all due respect to the Monty Python team).  Ultimately, Stiller’s modernized approach to another film adaptation of James Thurber’s short story “The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty” winds up falling a bit short on all of those genres, never quite clearly having an identity as to which type of film it’s really supposed to be. The motion picture winds up being as nondescript as its eponymous protagonist is at its outset.   

Prior to the screening, Stiller was brought onto the stage where he talked about the background of his film before introducing some of its cast to the audience.  Stiller mentioned that the producers had been trying to get this movie made for quite a long time and that he was actually brought into the project relatively late.  Having grown up here in New York City – just a few short blocks from where “Mitty” was shown at Lincoln Center, in fact – Stiller was very proud of the fact that he was able to feature his hometown quite so prominently in this work.  Among the cast members present were Wiig, Penn and Adam Scott (who was particularly good as Mitty’s prickly new boss); absent were Shirley MacLaine (Mitty’s mother) and Patton Oswalt, who was quite funny in his small but surprising role.   


The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) on IMDb N/A/10

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