The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (starring and directed by comedian Ben Stiller) follows an inconspicuous middle-aged white collar worker in New York City who suffers from intense daydreams, and in a warming journey of self-discovery, finally manages to realise them.
Peter Bradshaw (film critic for The Guardian) didn’t fail to note the directing and acting credits claimed by Ben Stiller, in his opinion constituting a ‘narcissistic’ adaptation. Indeed, we are subject to many an extended shot of Ben Stiller’s face. Having said this, Stiller’s transition from such directly comedic (and arguably momentous) roles in Meet The Parents, Starsky and Hutch and Zoolander, has been surprisingly seamless. Despite considerable doubt, Stiller has produced a thoroughly convincing ‘everyman’ role which does not deserve to be criticised.
Kristen Wiig, who plays Walter’s love interest Cheryl, is cast equally successfully and adds an honest charm to the film which thankfully avoids the ‘sickly sweet’ trap common to the happy-go-lucky rom-com girl.It is partially due to this acting that The Secret Life earns such success in the realm of sentimentality: we accompany socially awkward Walter every step of the way as he matures clumsily from wallflower to winner. We laugh with him, not at him, and are satisfied when his efforts are rightly rewarded in the final scene.
Despite this success, one critic’s proclamation that the film was the new Forrest Gump is uninformed. Yes, Walter Mitty is a story of the underdog – one which doubles as a romantic comedy and warms the cockles. Regrettably however The Secret Life is neither a classic nor an epic. While we experience notable pathos, it is not quite enough to stir any tears, to leave us empty or even reflective upon leaving the cinema. Mitty’s story, despite his wild travels, is relatively insular; Gump’s manages to be relevant to the majority of North America. While similarities are apparent in sentiment and inspirational content, Walter Mitty will struggle to achieve half as much critical acclaim as Zemeckis’ masterpiece.
Apart from this, the film does triumph on the back of Stuart Dryburgh’s stunning photography. Walter’s adventures to Greenland, Iceland, the Himalayas and Afghanistan provide enough high contrast, high resolution scenes for us to be able to watch the entire film on mute. These epic, worldly shots, interspersed with banal scenes set in a concrete New York, do well to emphasise the grey life in which Walter lives, and the seemingly unattainable life of which he first dreams.
What can be aptly criticised however is the extent to which these bursts of colour and light affect the plot, rendering the film rather unrealistic and implausible. Walter, upon having a mental epiphany, leaves work unnoticed in the middle of the day, flies to Greenland immediately with no luggage and, from this day forward, becomes a new man. No strings attached. Just like that.
If we can overlook such trivialities though, the film undoubtedly constitutes a success: it’s a warm fusion of traditional feel-good cinema with an inspirational message to ‘stop dreaming and start living’, panoramic shots of mountains, and Ben Stiller’s face.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is in cinemas now