Review: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)
Up up and away
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty works on a number of levels and it's a good movie. The thing that's holding it back from being a great movie, however, is that it just doesn't have enough time to connect and flow.
This is a story that would work great as a series, or mini-series. Four to six or seven hours to develop, expand and pull the viewer in is just what a story with this level of ambition is in need of.
So at two hours, Ben Stiller's whimsical tale of an unremarkable man finally finding the strength and inspiration to do remarkable things, it all feels very rushed.
Stiller plays Mitty, a single man working at Life magazine just as the magazine is about to halt its print editions and go solely digital. He's a daydreamer, losing himself in elaborate fantasies, often involving Kristen Wiig's character, a coworker of Mitty's who he has a crush on but can never quite find the courage to ask out.
When Sean Penn's photographer sends his latest batch of photos, the one he has selected for the cover of the final print issue is missing from the reel. With Wiig's encouragement, Mitty goes globe trotting, looking for Penn and the missing photo before the print deadline expires.
The film is filled with lots of large scale special effects, courtesy of Mitty's imagination, most of them looking realistic enough to be impressive, and the scenes of Walter traversing some of the planets most beautiful locations are gorgeous. The soundtrack is also amazing. All of the songs selected to accompany the different narrative beats were well chosen, swelling at just the right times, whispering at just the right times, easily manipulating the viewer's emotions to whichever direction Stiller intends for that particular scene or sequence. You can tell the movie is meant to inspire and encourage and motivate. Which are wonderful sentiments and goals and hopefully they do just that for some of the people that see it.
Mitty is a fun movie and, most impressively, doesn't contain a single stitch of objectionable content. I mean not a single swear word, sexual reference or drop of blood. Not only is that a rarity in this day and age (outside of a Disney princess movie perhaps), but it isn't missed. Injecting any of those harder edged elements in a sweetly innocent tale like this would feel gratuitous and out of place. It also means you can take your whole family to the movie, which means for money for the studio, which is why it's hard for me to understand why more movies don't come out with that soft G rating. I mean honestly, wouldn't Wolf of Wall Street been a much better tale with all that stuff cut out of it? (What's the emoticon for sarcasm?)
Verdict: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is impressive and is filled with uplifting music, beautiful locals, a good message and a genuine sweetness. It's Stiller's most visually accomplished film to date and he plays the hapless Mitty well. Unfortunately it has trouble connecting on the level it's aiming for due to the ambition of the story crowding out proper pacing and development. Don't let that stop you from seeing it though. Not every one's as cinematically finicky as I am.