Ben Stiller directs and stars in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, a modern day adaptation of James Thurber’s 1939 short story of the same name. Stiller plays the titular character, an awkward daydreamer who works for the struggling Life Magazine. The film follows Walter as he comes out of his shell and travels the world to find Sean, a photographer who claims to have taken a photo which captures the ‘quintessence’ of Life Magazine. Kristen Wiig co-stars as Cheryl, another Life Magazine employee and the object of Walter’s affection.
The film starts very slowly and takes a while to pick up. Much of the first part takes place in Walter’s head- a plot device which wears thin very quickly, and he fantasises so often that it becomes almost impossible to distinguish reality from his daydreams. Even when Walter supposedly stops dreaming, the fantasy version of Cheryl appears out of nowhere to sing to him, which is confusing and inconsistent. The constant fantasises drag the plot back and continue to slow down the film and the development of the characters.
However, the pace does pick up very suddenly, and the plot improves from that point. The film is easy to watch in that you know there will be a happy ending, but it is never clear exactly how Walter will get there. This unpredictability is refreshing. There are several points at which it feels like the story is finishing, but new plot developments keep coming up and it becomes increasingly difficult to guess how things will pan out. Considering how uncommon any unpredictability is in romantic comedies, this is the film’s strongest point.
The casting of the film is not as strong as its plot. Walter is supposed to be sweet and likeable, and probably would have been had the film starred someone like Steve Carrell or Jason Segel, but Stiller manages to make the character frustrating and dull. It is difficult to see Stiller as a shy, retiring man, and the character would have been more easy to relate to had a different actor played him. Stiller brings a harshness to the part which is inconsistent with Walter’s submissiveness. However, although it doesn’t make up for the miscasting of the protagonist, Patton Oswalt is perfectly cast as Todd, an employee of Match.com. Most laughs in this film come from Oswalt’s hilarious performance and, although he only actually appears in one scene, Todd is one of the most memorable characters in the film.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is an easygoing film, but definitely not a must-see. The ending is uplifting, if a little clichéd, and the plot is easy to keep track of. However, the film does have surprising twists, and the revelation of Sean’s photograph at the end of the film does not disappoint. Although Stiller fails to bring Walter to life, the character’s journey is still heartwarming, and by the end you will probably find yourself rooting for him. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is not challenging in any way, which is disappointing considering its origins in Thurber’s story, but it is a sweet, touching film.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty will be released on the 26th of December.