<Review by: Sailesh Ghelani>
Directed by Ben Stiller. Starring Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Kathryn Hahn, Adam Scott, Shirley MacLaine, Patton Oswalt, Adrian Martinez, Sean Penn
A feel good film to start off the year is always welcome and this one is exquisitely made, funny, warm and beautiful to watch.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was a short story written by James Thurber in 1939 and was adapted into a movie in 1947 starring Danny Kaye, Virginia Mayo and Boris Karloff. In this film, Ben Stiller as director and Steve Conrad as writer adapt the short story to convey a message: get yourself out of your office dungeons and go out and experience the world and its simple splendour. Only then can you say that you have truly lived.
Ben Stiller stars as Walter Mitty, a simple ‘negative asset manager’ (he processes film negatives for the cover of a modern-day LIFE magazine that is about to go online) who can only live vicariously through the life of photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn) and his own daydreams in which he’s a superhero of sorts.
But that’s all about to change just like the world around Walter. The imaginary LIFE magazine is bought over and is going online. But not before a final print issue for which O’Connell – who never comes to the office and entrusts his photos only to Walter – sends negative number 25 for the cover. But Walter can’t find it and only O’Connell will have an extra negative.
In the beginning of the film you’ll see Walter daydreaming a lot about wooing the girl he secretly likes: co-worker Cheryl Melhoff played by Kristen Wiig. He even fantasies about a battle with his new asshole boss Ted (Adam Scott) in a heavy CGI scene that could easily have gone over the top slapstick but manages to stay in the realm of teenage fantasy.
Slowly and surreally, the fantasies stop as Walter seeks out negative number 25 in Greenland and Iceland against sweeping vistas of mountains and lakes. In this contrast you see how daydreams pale in comparison to what he’s actually been missing in the basement of his office building, responsible for taking care of his mother (Shirley MacLaine) since his sister (Kathryn Hahn) seems to be a bit of a wanderer herself. But a series of fortunate incidents give Walter that push to get on a skateboard and climb the Himalayas!
Visually, the film is spectacular. Each shot is marvellously choreographed. The little graphics of text inlaid in some of the frames seem perfectly aligned to reality and the quirkiness of this film. And even though it is a drama, the comedy shines through with scenes where Walter jumps out of a helicopter – from the wrong side – piloted by a drunken guy straight into freezing waters instead of onto a ship he thinks Sean O’Connell is on.
Sean Penn’s extended cameo as the adventurer-photographer is subtle but substantial. He makes every word and movement count and his message about sometimes not taking the shot and just enjoying the moment is a little wink at how the internet/FB/Twitter generation is missing out on life because they’re too busy living LIFE Online!
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a well-shot, fun and charming film about going out and living your life and exploring yourself.
PS: Life Magazine motto: “To see things thousands of miles away, things hidden behind walls and within rooms, things dangerous to come to, to draw closer, to see and be amazed.”