Posted January 19, 2014 by Mikael Angelo Francisco in Movies/TV

MOVIE REVIEW: “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is a two-hour daydream

Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, Samuel Goldwyn Films, Red Hour Films
Starring Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Sean Penn, Jon Daly, Terence Bernie Hines, and Patton Oswalt
Directed by Ben Stiller

Philippine Release Date: January 22, 2013
Runtime: 114 minutes (1 hour 54 minutes)
MTRCB Rating: G

Expecting to find logic and sense in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is like trying to find a pro-Catholic message in a Green Day song – it’s a futile endeavor, and it also means you may have missed the point entirely.

A modern take on a 1939 short story by James Thurber, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty focuses on an unremarkable protagonist trapped in an almost eternal cycle of mediocrity. His only escape lies in his tendency to dream up fanciful scenarios of himself rising above ‘Walter Mitty, negative assets manager at Life magazine’ and assuming such roles of prominence as ‘action hero,’ ‘mountaineer,’ and ‘smooth-talking Casanova.’

To the people around him, Mitty is a curious case – an awkward introvert who’s never really quite at home in the head, so to speak. As no one else sees what goes on in Mitty’s hyperactive imagination, nobody expects much from the weird dude in charge of photos – a silent, almost expressionless man who literally works in the shadows, far from everyone else. However, when circumstances seemingly beyond his control throw him far away from his comfort zone, Walter Mitty is forced to step up and turn his daytime fantasies into reality.

Ben Stiller plays the lead role, and lends his, well, ‘Ben Stiller’-ness to the character. At the beginning of the film, Stiller’s Mitty is lifeless, listless, and lacking in social graces – in other words, a perfect representation of Walter Mitty. However, a radical personality shift happens halfway through the film; as snippets of Mitty’s youth are revealed alongside each new adventure (which always happens to be more life-threatening than the last), it becomes apparent that, even without the daydreams, there was something special in the man all along, buried under years of missed opportunities and regret.

Naturally, the other characters in the story stand in stark contrast to Mitty’s mediocrity, but with varying degrees of success. As the legendary photographer Sean O’Connell, Sean Penn pushes the boundaries of life, constantly and unintentionally staying one step ahead of poor Mitty.  Corporate transition manager Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott), whose thinking capacity could never quite match the speed of his own mouth, seemingly lives to cramp Mitty’s style. On the other hand, the object of Mitty’s affection, his co-worker Cheryl (Kristen Wiig), lives a simple life of her own, and has no idea that Mitty holds her in such high regard. Meanwhile, Patton Oswalt provides additional comic relief as an online dating site tech representative who witnesses Mitty’s eventual transformation from daydreaming zero to shark-punching hero.

There’s really no point in trying to evaluate The Secret Life of Walter Mitty in terms of story progression and plot loopholes, because there are far too many inconsistencies to point out. Furthermore, that would do the film a disservice, as it excels in other areas and accomplishes what it set out to do in the first place. In fact, I would even say that the film’s lack of cohesiveness makes it an ironically successful representation of a daydream – it casts the main hero in a dominant role, regardless of proper build-up or adequacy of skill set. Of course, this could have been intentional (given the theme of daydreams as disjoint, isolated fantasies), but that might be giving Stiller too much credit.

The film wasn’t knee-slappingly funny, and the shameless product placement throughout its nearly two-hour run made it seem like a gigantic in-your-face advertisement at times. However, it succeeds as a “feel-good” flick, simply because no one is a stranger to daydreaming. At one point in our lives, we’ve all wanted to throw our hands up in the air, leave the stress of work and everyday life behind, and do something that toes the line between courage and insanity.  Walter Mitty takes that feeling to an exaggerated degree and, when forced to “stop dreaming and start living,” succeeds in becoming what he has always dreamed of being. And honestly, isn’t that what we all want to be?

If there’s any lesson you could take away from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, it’s that turning your life around might be a lot easier than you’d think. Unfortunately, because Walter Mitty is bound by the unspoken rule of Hollywood films that the hero should always win, his story doesn’t exactly inspire as much as it serves the purpose of being an imaginary escape – one hundred and fourteen minutes of wish fulfillment, and a brief mental diversion before being forced to welcome yet another week of work.

VERDICT: 8 out of 10 daydreams

A warm “thank you” goes out to 20th Century Fox (Like their FB page here) for the special screening of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

Mikael Angelo Francisco