The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Review

poster from the Twentieth Century Fox Film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

I didn’t think I’d be able to see a movie this week because of the holidays, but I’d forgotten how the combination of early rising and overeating always makes my family unfit for anything but comas and movie watching by Christmas evening. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was acceptable to all, even though it was a) a remake and b) possibly too focused on visuals and c) likely to be a dream in the end.

A photographic negatives manager at Life magazine travels the world looking for his photographer friend after he discovers the final issue cover image is missing.

Now that I’ve seen it I’m happy to say that Walter Mitty did everything right. It was not (spoiler alert) all dream in the end. The visuals complimented the story instead of trying to BE the story. And the remade version is different enough from both the original short story and the first movie to be considered a completely new entity. I recommend it!

While the short story and first movie mostly focused on the Walter character being so henpecked by his family and bosses that he resorts to heroic fantasies to cope, Ben Stiller’s Walter Mitty is more defined by his regrets than anything else. He wishes he took more chances and did more interesting things. He wants to fill up his eHarmony profile, be appealing to his co-worker Cheryl (Kristin Wiig), and live up to the Life magazine motto, but mostly he just wants to be proud of himself.

Ben Stiller from the Twentieth Century Fox Film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Hernando, is it too much to ask that I not be embarrassed to tell people about my life?

Walter imagines that he’s a poetic mountain climber and a dog rescuer and an asphalt-surfing superhero just so he can deal with his boring ordinary life working as a manager of the photographic negatives department at Life magazine. The result is funny, but without being too silly to take seriously.

Ben Stiller and Kristen Wiig from the Twentieth Century Fox Film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

How do I compare thee to frozen goat entrails?

But unlike normal people who daydream, Walter isn’t going about his normal business as his fantasies are unrolling in his head. He’s actually just standing there staring at the wall. His mother Edna (Shirley MacLaine) and sister Odessa (Kathryn Hahn), who rely on Walter for just about everything, take his ‘zone-outs’ in stride but some of his co-workers (the bullies) think he’s a total weirdo.

Adam Scott and Ben Stiller from the Twentieth Century Fox Film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Yo, ground control to Major Tom! Would it bother you if I put spitballs in your hair?

Then Walter is shaken out of his routine. Life has been sold. Some douchebags, led by Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott), have come to transition the magazine to a website and fire everyone. Walter’s friend Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn) has just sent in his best photo ever to grace the cover of the last issue, but… Walter can’t find it. Cheryl encourages him to go find Sean and get the photo. So he figures: what the hell? My life is falling apart anyway. Might as well take the chance.

Life Magazine covers from the Twentieth Century Fox Film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Freedom! Wheeeeeeeeeeeee

The plot consists of Walter following Sean across the globe, uncovering a new clue to Sean’s next destination with each place he visits. And in the space of a week, Walter goes from having done nothing to having traveled to Greenland, jumped out of a helicopter into the Denmark Strait, fought a shark, raced a horde of horny Chilean sailors, skateboarded down a volcano, escaped a pyroclastic cloud in an SUV, and climbed a mountain in Afghanistan – all of which is now documented on his eHarmony profile thanks to frequent conversations with eHarmony employee Todd (Patton Oswalt).

Himalayas from the Twentieth Century Fox Film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Hey Todd, you’ll never believe where I am now.

There’s not much in the movie that isn’t in the trailer, but thanks to amazing visuals and sweeping music that compliment a simple but compelling story, I didn’t care. I was just swept away by what was happening. And the best part about the look of the movie was that the scenery was (mostly) real, not CGI. They actually went up mountains and to Iceland and shot everything on film. It would have been pretty hypocritical otherwise, what with the whole story revolving around an old school photographic negative.

volcano erupting from the Twentieth Century Fox Film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Enjoy our totally fake bunch of fakeness, suckers!

In fact, the story fit together so well, with seemingly superfluous facts and events from Walter’s life turning out to be key clues, that I started to worry it was all one of Walter’s dreams. After all, it’s hard to tell when he goes into them sometimes. We only realize they’re dreams when someone snaps him out of it. But the whole movie wasn’t rendered pointless by being a dream. Which is a good thing, because otherwise I would have had to go on a Walter Mitty style odyssey to Ben Stiller’s house and hit him over the head with a hammer.

Ben Stiller on a skateboard from the Twentieth Century Fox Film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Have hammer, will travel.

My only complaints are that my super writer powers allowed me to guess several key things very early on in the movie, most notably where the missing negative was and what it was a picture of. I also felt a little cheated that Walter’s life-changing odyssey was more about him going back to being the interesting person he’d been as a teen rather than opening up totally new horizons of interestingness he’d never had before. It made Walter less relatable, because most of us probably feel like we’ve never been that interesting.

Ben Stiller and Sean Penn from the Twentieth Century Fox Film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

What do you mean, you used to be a skateboarder with a mohawk?

But overall I really enjoyed The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. I recommend it to anyone who is prone to daydreams or who wishes their life was a little more interesting. Go ahead and take the whole family. There’s nothing in here I wouldn’t show a kid. Who knows – maybe it will be your family’s inspiration to do that thing you’ve always wanted to do.

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