Ben Stiller’s fifth directorial effort is his crowning glory as a filmmaker, perhaps even as an actor. A loose remake of the 1947 Danny Kaye comedy, the central premise remains the same with Mitty being a hopeless daydreamer who continually escapes into his fantasy life to avoid the mundanities of the daily grind.
This shiny upgrade on the story is a near perfect fit; the modern Walter Mitty works as a negative asset manager for the prestigious Life Magazine all the time nursing a schoolboy crush on his colleague Cheryl (Kristen Wiig). Unlike the Danny Kaye original, this Walter isn’t quite as henpecked by life by he remains a shy retiring character who allows himself to be easily bossed around. Disaster strikes with the arrival of Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott) who announces the publication are to close as it makes the transition to online. The situation goes from bad to worse when Walter seemingly misplaces a vital negative from renowned photojournalist Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn), this forces Walter to escape from his comfort zone and have a real-life adventure.
Personally, when I first saw the trailer, I got caught up in the grander of the story fuelled by the ultra cool Of Monsters And Men’s Dirty Paws. Ultimately I didn’t get round to seeing it on the big screen, the DNA of the premise felt like one I had seen too frequently and another heartwarming story of a man going an adventure to find himself didn’t appeal. In hindsight I regret not making the effort as my cynicism was unfounded. While it is a film about a man going on an adventure to find himself is exactly what we get, Stiller serves up enough originality and charm that you just won’t care.
This has been a passion project for Stiller for a number of years, giving the film everything he’s got as an actor, a writer and a director you can feel it in each and every scene. The daydreams are woven into Walter’s life elegantly, we’ve all had moments during our working day where we loose ourselves in split seconds of fantasy or wishing we had the courage to be more than we are. Walter is an everyman through and through; he remains accessible to the audience so his plight is one we can invest in. As the story goes on the once frequent escapes from reality fade away, this is beautifully reflected by his escalating real-life situations and a subtle metaphor that Walter no longer needs to hide away from life.
Sunday afternoon is a time for daydreams and a safe haven for flights of fancy, although Walter Mitty won’t inspire you to quit your job or throw your boss out a window, it will remind you that taking the time to do something out of your comfort zone can do wonders for you. Fans of the original might not appreciate the updates, but The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty is a satisfying mix of old-fashioned storytelling with a modern visual spin.
Perhaps lacking that through-line emotional punch that you might be expecting, Stiller saves the real heartwarming moment for the very end with an earnest scene that serves as the cherry on top of a delicious cinematic cake.