The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

  • The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is almost a good movie.
  • Despite an imbalanced script, it is very well directed by Ben Stiller. From the opening credits to the final shot, Stiller makes brilliant choices that fuel the film’s sense of fantasy, as well as its comedy. The way he incorporates Walter’s (Ben Stiller) daydreams is inspired, especially those surrounding Cheryl (Kristin Wiig), as is the way he focuses on others’ reactions to Walter zoning out. Even an extended chase scene works. Stiller’s direction is easily this movie’s greatest strength.
  • Steve Conrad’s script is its biggest weakness. While the writer develops his lead characters well enough, he doesn’t write a believable plot. Each time Walter’s investigation runs dry, Conrad tosses his protagonist another overly coincidental clue that sends him along the path again.
  • A problem which is only further heightened when Walter succeeds at near impossible tasks (a shark fight, anyone?), without any repercussion. Or when the epilogue resolves everything too perfectly.
  • Because so much of the plot is implausible, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty can never shake the sense it is one of its protagonist’s fanstasies, only this time elongated and hyper-detailed.
  • Two minor but important characters also prove problematic. Todd Maher (Patton Oswalt) behaves differently from any customer service agent I’ve ever encountered. He is not believable.
  • Either is Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn), a recluse who so values privacy that he doesn’t give a phone number to anyone and always has multiple addresses, even for his pay-stubs. This socially unavailable man elaborately plans a clever gesture to please someone he’s never met. And also enjoys random soccer games with complete strangers. Why? Conrad never bothers to develop Sean enough to answer such questions.
  • As though it isn’t abundantly obvious, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’s screenplay isn’t good.
  • Which would be shameful regardless, but is made worse because the cast is so talented. Ben Stiller the actor plays Walter Mitty very well. He’s understated and modest even when doing things most of us would never dare try.
  • Kristen Wiig is just as good as Cheryl, offering a similar level of understatement. Sean Penn is terrific as always in a limited role, and Adam Scott (Ted Hendricks) plays his antagonist with just enough reserve that he never seems totally evil.
  • Stiller, the director, and an equally skilled cast cancel out the movie’s poor script and leave this an average film.
  • Final Grade: C

17 thoughts on “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

  1. Great review! I really want to watch this, its a shame the script is weak, however I’m hoping Stiller’s performance overwrites that. 🙂

  2. Really good review. I saw this in an early surprise pre-screening and it’s really not the kind of thing I would normally go for but there are some great things about it. I agree with you about some parts being utterly implausible. For it really to have worked it needed to temper the fantasy elements with some more realistic ones.

  3. Definitely an ambitious project for Stiller to get ahold of, but he holds his own quite well and I have to say, I look forward to whatever he’s got coming up next. As a director, that is. Good review.

    • Agreed. I remember you saying his direction shows a great deal of promise. Which is probably why I was paying such close attention to it.

      I have to say . . . you were completely right.

  4. Ah, I had started reading this earlier and then decided to leave it ’til I saw the film. Good review. I agree with most of your quibbles about the script (it’s less a mystery than a series of broad coincidences), but didn’t mention them in my review since I figured there’s a reasonable chance that the details were exaggerated by Mitty’s sense of fantasy (something the film refused to suggest was happening, but eh). Oswalt’s character was one of the worst parts of the film – and I like Oswalt! – but obviously just existed to fund the movie in the first place.

    • If the film had implied that Walter’s sense of fantasy was twisting events, it might have been awesome. But, like you said, it didn’t, really.

      Agreed on Todd and the actor who played him.

  5. This movie looks so interesting and I was just listening to an interview on Howard Stern with Ben Stiller and he really made it sound like a good movie. So much time and energy went into the casting, the getting it even made part, apparently the grandson of Samuel Goldywn wanted to preserve this movie and really hesitant on anyone remaking it, so a lot went into it. Sad to hear its not GREAT. I also heard it was expensive to make and with that cast you would think it would be better. Ok sorry for rambling! Awww too bad it wasn’t better. 😦

    • The cast is great. And I’m not surprised to hear Stiller went through great pains to get it made; his direction is superb.

      The flaws are all in the screenplay. It tries to capture Forrest Gump’s sense of surreal character growth, but it doesn’t find the same magic. Probably because the narrative is too linear, too straight-arrow. And so it loses suspension of disbelief.

  6. Pingback: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: The Review | Oracle of Film

  7. Stiler’s films don’t always work but I think he’s a little underrated as a director – especially one who acts and directs at the same time.

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