The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Ben Stiller takes charge behind the camera and stars in front in this comedic drama
Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) is a daydreaming human anachronism. He works in the “negative assets” department of Life magazine—meaning he keeps track of the photographic negatives in the publications extensive archives. Of course digital snappers don’t submit images on film, so activity in his department has been somewhat slow. That leaves Walter extra time to languish within a fanciful secret world, which of late has featured a newly hired coworker named Cheryl (Kristen Wiig). Sadly in truth, the recently divorced woman has barely noticed Walter’s existence.
The other reality Walter hasn’t recognized is how much his profession has changed in the past two decades. The once prominent periodical is about to print its last edition before undergoing a metamorphous into an online publication… with a fraction of its staff. The layoffs are under the direction of hotshot Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott), a smartphone-toting taskmaster who seems to love watching anxious staffers scurry like ants after he has kicked their hill.
Typically Walter is buried deep below the action in the archives room, but when noted, old-school photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn) submits a roll of film for the magazine’s final cover, all eyes are on the seasoned employee to produce the picture. It is an easy assignment—until Walter’s assistant Hernando (Adrian Martinez) removes the celluloid coil from its protective can and discovers the key image is missing. Determined to protect his reputation and recover the lost negative, Walter sets out to find the elusive O’Connell and the whereabouts of the missing frame of film.
This version of James Thurber’s famous short story bears little resemblance to Danny Kaye’s 1947 portrayal of the bumbling man with a chronic imagination. Directed by the lead actor, the 2013 movie thankfully also contains little of the edgy content often found in other movies Ben Stiller has starred in (such as Meet the Fockers and Zoolander). Raising the bar even further, this Walter Mitty features impressive cinematography, creative images (a short sequence of Walter making his way through airport security is particularly memorable) and unique locations (Iceland being in the forefront).
Parents of older children or teens interested in seeing the film won’t find a lot of reasons to say no. A pretend fistfight between Walter and his boss is depicted with some bloody injuries, along with a real, frightening encounter with a shark. Remarks about strippers and a few mild profanities are heard. And a drunken helicopter pilot insists on flying after guzzling down another huge glass of brew. (This portrayal may be of particular concern because the comedy of the scene belittles the seriousness of the situation.)
What I enjoyed most about the remake is the way it celebrates the wisdom of age, and places people above technology. Like the photographic film it enshrines, the story tries to capture the shadow of a disappearing way of life, as seen through Mitty’s rose-colored glasses.