I really wanted to love this film, I truly did. The trailers sold it so well and I felt like the premise would be something I could connect with but sometimes it just isn’t meant to be and that seemed to be the case with The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty follows the titled character (played by Ben Stiller). Walter is a sort of outcast, loner who struggles with connecting to others. The one person he wants to connect with, Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig), is out of his reach due to his struggles and he tries to make up for this with a forced meet cute via eHarmony. Walter also is dealing with the new pressures at work as his job has become obsolete due to changes at LIFE Magazine that means the end of its running. A full move to an online model is being run by Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott) who is laying off the majority of the staff.
Stiller, who also directed the film, tries hard to sell Walter as that hero we need to root for and I guess to that avail he does succeed. Walter is a likeable guy but just because he is so likeable doesn’t mean we have to root for him and where Walter struggles is getting us to commit to him. Stiller does a solid job with the loner role but it never feels real. I never was swept up with his character and while I related to him, I never could see myself as him.
I think that was the biggest problem with this film because while it was Stiller’s most adult feature that he has directed, it also was incredibly safe. It wanted to be challenging but it never seemed like what Walter was facing was ever something substantial. Losing his job was bad but he also was flying across the world so was money so tight? He struggled to talk to people but once he did it seemed like it was immediately fixed. There just seemed to be so much more that could be tapped into Walter and it seemed like they decided to make him a movie character rather than a character that felt real.
The film still had its good points and once the second act started going I got more into the story. The cinematography by Stuart Dryburgh was gorgeous. Even the shots in New York were composed so well that it made up for the lack of story at some parts. Once Walter was in Greenland and Iceland, Dryburgh really showed off with beautifully executed takes using the mountain ranges and desolate roads to create a wonderful atmosphere.
Stiller did a great job directing as well as little quirks showed up around the film, similar to (500) Days of Summer or Zombieland, where it tried to feel more independent with words showing up within the story space. This worked but in the end it felt unnecessary because while it wanted to look independent, the characters did not feel independent.
The aesthetic relationship between Wiig and Stiller’s characters was a casualty of what I talked about earlier with the struggles that Walter dealt with. The relationship felt fake and so Hollywood that I never was fully rooting for it. I assumed it was going to work out in the end and actually got excited that they may take it a different direction and make her not choose him but he recognize that he didn’t ever need her to have those adventures. Instead, they of course get together and while that didn’t detract from the fllm, a more ambiguous ending or maybe her not ending up with Walter maybe would of validated some of his actions more and made for a better closure.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty has its faults but overall it is an entertaining family film. The visuals are stunning and some of the soundtrack is nicely interjected in but you leave just wishing for so much more out of a story that really could of opened up more. Like Walter, it felt like it wanted nothing more than to be confident but that confidence came with a lot of problems that it didn’t fix.