Film Reviews

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Ben Stiller

Rating - 3/10

I love the way some critics have made sure to point out to you, the 21st century, barely literate moviegoer, that Ben Stiller’s adaptation bears little resemblance to the James Thurber story which first appeared in the New Yorker 75 years ago. Well sure, they wouldn’t want the average Joe, who, having committed the original story to memory in elementary school, as we all had to along with Abou Ben Adhem and the Pledge of Allegiance, would stroll into the theater expecting a faithful rendering of their favorite short story, and then be wildly disappointed by the liberties taken with the two pages of source material. What a load of pretentious gits we churn out of English programs across this great country of ours. Anyway, faithful or not, sitting through The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a dismal, disheartening experience. It’s disheartening because it continues a sad run of movies, right off of Anchorman 2, utterly wasting Kristin Wiig’s amazing abilities as a comedienne, which is bad enough, but it is also almost completely bereft of the comic gift for parody that Stiller has demonstrated time and time again. Think of the MTV series in Reality Bites, or the brilliant previews for Tropic Thunder. Like every funny man, he longs to be taken seriously, and I'm perfectly willing to oblige. It's just that Mitty was so tedious and flat that I longed for a chuckle here and there, just to break the monotony. 

Then again, I’m not one to complain about what is not on the screen. I think the critic should stick to what is shown, rather than compare with what one expected or had hoped to see. In the case of Walter Mitty, what is on the screen is unfunny and incoherent. The story revolves around a man who has daydreamed his life away since his dad died when he was 13, until one day he finally decides to get up and take life by the balls, embarking on the adventure of a hundred lifetimes. He does this presumably because he has met a woman who catches his fancy and he’d like to, what, impress her?  There’s no indication she needs him to be anything besides what he already is. Maybe she just inspires him to do great and heroic things, though it’s hard to see why, as she seems about as ordinary and humdrum as he is.  My point is you actually can’t point to a reason why he suddenly changes his entire personality literally from one minute to the next, and as a result everything that follows is forced and absurd, and not in a good way. First, to borrow a phrase from Orson Welles, the trauma deriving from the premature loss of the father figure is simply dime-store Freud, though sadly, this one-note explanation perfectly reflects Stiller's one-note performance. He looks dazed through most of the film, as if frightened into realizing he has bitten off more than he can chew. 

And you feel for him, because you realize it didn’t have to be this way. There’s a beating heart at the center of this film, with wonderful actors, accomplished cinematography and the kernel of a great story.  Maybe some of the early good press the film got was focused on these things. But I also wonder what was actually behind the phenomenal hype for the 6 months prior to its release. Did anyone else notice that? Even in a culture that starts celebrating Christmas the day after Halloween (with Halloween kicking off sometime around Labor Day), this set a record for jumping the gun. I feel like I will solve some great mystery of the universe if I just find out how it all happened.  Another reason why the answer will always remain out of reach. I wish I could recommend it as a rental, or a way to spend an afternoon when it comes on TV, but I’m pretty sure you’ll feel like I did – a bit angry for having to sit through 2 very frustrating hours. I made myself do it; you don’t have to.