THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY
MOVIE: ****1/2 (out of 5)
BLU-RAY EXPERIENCE: ***1/2 (out of 5)
Ben Stiller as WALTER MITTY
Kristen Wiig as CHERYL MELHOFF
Shirley MacLaine as EDNA MITTY
Adam Scott as TED HENDRICKS
Kathryn Hahn as ODESSA MITTY
Sean Penn as SEAN O’CONNELL
Patton Oswalt as TODD MAHER
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Directed by: Ben Stiller
BY KEVIN CARR
In 2013 when “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” was first being marketed, it quickly became one of my most anticipated films of the year. It all stemmed from the teaser trailer, which didn’t give much story away but set the perfect tone for the film.
As the movie got early award buzz that eventually evaporated, I remained unchanged in my anticipation. The second trailer shed more light on the story, but unlike some movie marketing that show a dramatic shift in tone between trailers, this one remained the same. And it is this tone that kept me interested and eventually made me a devoted fan.
By the time the film was released, it was lost in a rush of award films and family movies. Dropping on Christmas Day to very little fanfare and no award buzz whatsoever, I embraced it and a part of me wept when I realized that it was a film few other people in my business would champion.
Like Larry the Cable Guy (though not to the same extreme degree), Ben Stiller had burned many of his bridges with his critical audiences. After releasing movies like “Little Fockers” and the “Night at the Museum” flicks, many of my brethren have marginalized him to the level of Adam Sandler, dismissing him as a hack making terrible mainstream entertainment.
That all may be very true about Ben Stiller the actor. However, Ben Stiller the director still has some mighty tricks up his sleeve.
People seem to forget that Ben Stiller has directed some great films. “Reality Bites” is an icon of slacker culture (for now-aging former slackers). “The Cable Guy” was a box office dud that many look back on as a brilliant piece of subversive pop culture predictions. “Zoolander” is a work of comedic genius, and “Tropic Thunder” had an amazing ability to skewer politically correct sacred cows.
However, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” shows a new chapter in Stiller’s life as a director. It is his most restrained and thoughtful film he’s made. It also is his most mature, which is probably why it is his most misunderstood at this point.
The story is a loose adaptation of James Thurber’s original short story, and Thurber would have most likely hated it as much as he did the Danny Kaye classic from the 1940s. In this expanded film, Stiller plays the title character, a photo editor from Life magazine. Living a mundane existence, Walter finds himself under the gun at work when he seems to have misplaced the cover photo for the last issue of the magazine. This sends Walter on an unlikely global adventure where he must track down the photographer to find the missing photo.
No matter how I look at “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” I love it. The look of the film is fine-tuned, with the color palate designed to change with the character. The landscapes of the global adventure that Walter finds himself on are beautiful and awe-inspiring.
The story is likewise inspiring, but for different reasons. It doesn’t just show a pathetic daydreamer. It shows a man whose life was contained physically but whose mind is as open as it can be. When he is confronted with what he could have made with his life, he does something about it. The temptation to make this a film about nothing more than a man daydreaming was rejected, and that allows it to be a movie that challenges the viewer to chase his or her dreams. Yes, that’s a corny message, but I’ve learned in my life that the corny cliches are often true in the pursuit of real happiness.
Like Marc Forster’s “Stranger Than Fiction” almost ten years ago, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” tackles some deep issues and bends reality to keep the viewer guessing. It says a lot about the nature of imagination and dreams, but it does so in a very comfortable way.
It may not be a game changer or the deepest film ever made, but “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is one charming film to see, and there’s nothing wrong with a feel-good movie that makes you feel good about liking it.
The Blu-ray also comes with a DVD of the film along with an HD digital download through UltraViolet. The bonus features includes a slate of deleted, extended and alternate scenes, as well as a reference photo gallery, José González’s music video of “Stay Alive and the theatrical trailer.
The behind the scenes videos are presented in a seven parts: “The History of Walter Mitty,” “The Look of LIFE,” “That’s a Shark!,” “The Music of Walter Mitty,” “Icelandic Adventure,” “Nordic Casting,” “Titles of Walter Mitty,” “Sights and Sounds of Production” and “Pre-Viz.”