The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (PG, 20th Century Fox)

walter-mitty 75Walter is at his most interesting when he’s faced with challenges most people couldn’t dream of.

 

 

 

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Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) has a comfortable life. He has a nice apartment, money in the bank, a fledgling friendship with new co-worker Cheryl (Kristen Wiig), and 16 solid years of employment as the Negative Asset Manager at Life Magazine. Walter’s only real problem is that he’s a bit too comfortable, and because of it, he can’t stop daydreaming of a world filled with the kind of heroic adventure and romance that would shake up his quiet little life.

When the magazine’s star photographer, Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn), sends over a set of negatives that includes his choice for the last ever cover of Life’s print edition, Walter is charged with seeing it through production. But when Walter can’t locate the negative, he takes the biggest risk of his life to save his job.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is not what we’ve come to expect from a film starring Ben Stiller. The movie features precious little slapstick, zero random goofy voices, and nary a Vince Vaughn or Owen Wilson sighting. In fact, Mitty isn’t really a laugh-out-loud affair: It’s mostly a slightly amusing, awkwardly charming look at a guy finally taking life by the balls.

Walter takes off on a quest to track down the globe-trotting Sean and get his hands on the missing negative, and in the process has increasingly action-packed adventures in the name of his single-minded goal. Walter jumps out of a helicopter, fights a shark, escapes an erupting volcano, and successfully bribes an Afghani warlord to reach his goal, all without it ever seeming like a live-action cartoon.

His trek around the world is the best part of the film, and I wish it took up more screen time than it actually does. Walter is at his most interesting when he’s faced with challenges most people couldn’t dream of, and the landscapes we’re treated to are amazing. Scenes of Walter skateboarding down a long, winding road in Iceland and a friendly game of soccer played as the sun sets in the Himalayas stand out in particular.

The movie’s awkward charm mostly comes from the realistic conversations in the film. Walter stumbles over his words, forgets what to say, and zones out at the worst times when trying to speak with his intimidating new boss. He and Cheryl clearly enjoy each other’s company, but share many an uncomfortable silence.

After getting into the meat of the film and having the adventure stop abruptly so we can visit Walter’s staid life again, I felt cheated. I wanted to see him continue to triumph way outside of his comfort zone, without the real world breaking in to let us all down in the way that only reality can.

Something I came to love about this movie, though, was how Walter changed. In real life, most people don’t spend a few days living their dream and immediately undergo radical change. They change a bit; and that’s what we get in Stiller’s Walter: a bit more confidence and a bit less fear.

When Walter’s big adventure is over, he gets to tell off his mean boss, but he does it in a strong, quiet way befitting the character. And when he finally takes a shot at having something more with Cheryl, it’s with a small gesture that says what’s needed without scaring the newly single mom off. By the end, you feel that Walter has truly internalized everything he learned from his exploits, and I can’t think of a better way to end a film than that. | Adrienne Jones

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