The Secret Life of Walter Mitty


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A day-dreamer escapes his anonymous life by disappearing into a world of fantasies filled with heroism, romance and action. When his job along with that of his co-worker are threatened, he takes action in the real world embarking on a global journey that turns into an adventure more extraordinary than anything he could have ever imagined.

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Director: Ben Stiller

Writer[s]: Steve Conrad

Starring: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Adam Scott, Shirley MacLaine, Kathryn Hahn, Sean Penn

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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, originally a short story written by James Thurber and appearing in The New Yorker, which was also made into a movie in 1947, has been floating around Hollywood for almost 20 years. It was very nearly made in the mid 90’s with Jim Carrey set to star and Ron Howard set to direct, but it was never finalized. And now in the past few years, with several actors eyed for the role of Walter Mitty, including Jim Carrey again, Owen Wilson, Mike Meyers, and Sascha Baron Cohen [who was actually offered the role]. Over time, Ben Stiller was given the role, and even became director after Gore Verbinski backed out.

I’m glad Stiller won the role in the end, because he brings a certain subtlety in his acting that I think this movie really needed in order to succeed in its message of everyday people doing extraordinary things. Walter Mitty is a particularly prime example of an everyday person: having a serious sit down and thought process for sending someone a “wink” on E-Harmony; having the same desk job analyzing photograph negatives for 16 years; day-dreaming about having a big, exciting life instead of the average one we have. He’s nervous, he’s shy, and he’s the last person you’d expect to fly to Greenland on a whim, jump onto a launching helicopter, and plunge from the very same aircraft into the freezing, shark-filled ocean.

I think subtlety is a good word for describing the productions of this film. The cinematography isn’t loud and big and overwhelming, but rather more low-key and personal; but don’t get me wrong, they throw in some beautiful shots of Greenland and Iceland, volcanoes and mountains, that really show you how great it is to be alive in this world. The acting, direction, dialogue, and really everything else are subtle as well, even to the point of the film being kind of boring for a few minute sequences, which was really it’s only downfall. Kristen Wiig and Adam Scott blended in perfectly, and created a great sense of humor for the movie.

I’m reminded of Into the Wild with this film. Both are about taking the risk to explore and travel, to find one’s self, but in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, we aren’t seeing a young man abandon his entire life and society and taking planned out risks that are clearly overwhelming, but instead we are seeing a grown man making the decision to save his own job and get the girl by taking a a trip to Greenland, which becomes much more than that. We have a holistic reason to believe in Walter’s motives as opposed to curious ideologies and ignorance in Into the Wild.

And I can’t complete this review without touching on the gorgeous original soundtrack from Theodore Shapiro and Jose Gonzalez, with features by Of Monsters and Men, Junip [Gonzalez’s band], Rogue Wave, and more. Listen to the songs from the film on Spotfiy here, and the original soundtrack on Spotify here.

The LIFE magazine motto is: “To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other and to feel. That is the purpose of life.” At the end of the film, it is clear that Walter has done these things, and you are left with a sense of fulfillment and inspiration. Hopefully we can all follow in Walter’s footsteps.

My Rating

3/4 – The Secret Life of Walter Mitty has been in production hell for 20 years, struggling to modernize from it’s original story in 1939. Not only have director Ben Stiller and writer Steve Conrad done just that, but they have made an Into the Wild adventure style film for the everyday person looking to “see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other and to feel.” Inspiring, touching, funny, and introspective, Walter Mitty is an absolutely pleasant surprise.

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