Walter Mitty is a snooze-you-lose day-dreamer and in 1947 no one knew how to play the day-dreamer better than Danny Kaye. The Samuel Goldwyn film constructed from the short story work James Thurber was a success and I should know. My 13yo loved watching The Secret Life of Walter Mitty at Grandma and Granddad’s so it had the legs on it to be a lasting work. This year it’s Ben Stiller picking up the baton as he directs and stars in the Christmas release.
Built around the life of a “Negative Asset Manager” working at the soon-to-be-closed down LIFE magazine, the story shows our romantic lead wooing his love interest via the occasional daydream into handsome superhero land. The real story of LIFE magazine is worth a read as it mirrors part of the script as a new bunch of Executives come in to replace the old with a new online solution. Walter Mitty is given the responsibility to get the final cover photo to print and that’s when the real world starts to collapse around him. The elite photographer Sean O’Connell has sent the negative for his pièce de résistance only to have it missing in action. The question for Walter is can he leave dreamland long enough to hunt it down.
Stiller does a good job as the mild-mannered zoned-out focal point but he doesn’t have the manic repertoire of Danny Kaye. Thanks to some supporting roles from love interest Kristen Wiig as office co-worker Cheryl, Sean O’Connell the warrior photographer played by Sean Penn and Adam Scott as the easy-to-hate take-over exec we get some life out of Stiller’s performance. But the two roles that should have been mentioned are the drunken karaoke singing helicopter pilot whose credit is only listed as ‘The Pilot’ played by Ólafur Darri Ólafsson and the e-Harmony customer service rep played by Patton Oswalt.
And that’s where we come back to the real star of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty movie. It’s the story. James Thurber was famous for his cartoons and short stories being published in the New Yorker. Considered one of the great American literary figures but he was equally known for his drawings. While the landscapes of Iceland and the journey across the world to save the day were brilliant, it’s the story of a man lost between two worlds that resonates with the every-man. Stiller and screenplay writer Steve Conrad have done a great job in keeping the essence of the story with a hint of the modern tale to keep it true to the original.
For some Christmas inspiration through the eyes of lovers, dreamers and me I’m giving Walter 4 out 5 stars.
Rating: PG Violence, coarse language and sexual references.