Plot: A mild-mannered employee (Ben Stiller) at Life Magazine who often daydreams of bigger adventures must literally travel outside his comfort zone in order to track down a world renown photojournalist (Sean Penn) to inquire about a missing photo. His job is at stake as the magazine transitions into an online format.
I loved the first scene. The first half was underwhelming. The second half got better. The end. I’m kidding, but not really. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a classic example of a film that has greatness lurking in it, but it’s just too muddled, with a script that really needed several more drafts. Ben Stiller directs and stars for what has been a passion project for him. And while there’s certainly an effort here, it just felt like he was trying too hard. But let’s start with Stiller as the director.
For the most part I’ve enjoyed Stiller’s directorial efforts. The Cable Guy has become a cult classic, Zoolander is obviously hilarious, and Tropic Thunder (his last directed film) is very good. His directing has always been solid, but it seems like the scripts are never up to snuff. That’s what we have here with Walter Mitty. Is this a comedy? Drama? Adventure? I suppose it could be all these things, but none of them are strong. For a film that wants to be epic and ambitious, it just comes off as really bland. Stiller tries to be too Wes Anderson at times (there’s only one Wes Anderson, folks), but I do appreciate the style he’s going for. This script needed a massive punch-up though. It needed to be really fun. There’s a great long running joke between Walter Mitty and a character played by Patton Oswalt that was great – really funny and random, but it worked for the story. The movie needed a lot more of this stuff.
The big appeal of the film are the daydream sequences that Walter goes into. This actually reminded me a lot of Sucker Punch. Remember that movie? In both cases, the main character goes into these fantasy trances. It works somewhat in Walter Mitty because they are quick and serve the story a little better, but not by much. Aside from one scene where Kristen Wiig’s character is singing, these daydreams just did not work for me. They are pretty to look at, but the dialogue is awful and the acting is way over the top, especially with Stiller. There’s one in particular involving a Curious Case of Benjamin Button parody that was just atrocious. I don’t know if it was painful because the scene was bad, or because it brought back memories of watching Benjamin Button. Probably the latter.
When Stiller isn’t in the daydream scenarios, he’s very good in the film. The protagonist couldn’t be more likable and more sympathetic, so you automatically root for him. The first scene does a great job at this, depicting the character’s personality perfectly. Too bad the first scene is the highlight of the film. Kristen Wiig and Patton Oswalt are also solid supporting roles, and Adam Scott does a great job at playing dick head boss guy. Shirley MacLaine and Kathryn Hahn play Walter’s mother and sister respectively, and the family dynamic was definitely one of the better aspects of the film.
While the first hour is pretty yawn inducing, the last thirty minutes picks up a lot. For whatever reason, I just felt more invested. There’s also a really nice scene between Walter and Sean Penn’s character towards the end. Penn is barely in the film, but definitely delivers.
I certainly cared about Walter’s journey, but the movie is just too inconsistent. The script isn’t dramatic enough or funny enough, so it ends up as a mish mash of okayness. The last image was very powerful though, and does sum up the film beautifully. If you are really desperate for a feel good movie, then this one’s pretty safe. Otherwise, it’s nothing special, but it desperately wants to be.
Rating: 6.5 out of 10 (Slightly Better than ‘meh’)