Starring: Ben Stiller (Zoolander), Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids), Adam Scott (The Aviator), Shirley MacLaine (Terms of Endearment), Patton Oswalt (Young Adult), Sean Penn (Gangster Squad)
Director: Ben Stiller (Tropic Thunder)
Writer: Steve Conrad (The Pursuit of Happyness)
Runtime: 1 hour 54 minutes
Release Date: 25 December (US), 26 December (UK)
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, based on the short story by James Thurber and previously adapted for the screen in 1947, has been in development hell since the early 90’s. Actors such as Jim Carrey, Mike Myers, Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell and Sacha Baron Cohen have all been attached to play the title character at some point, whilst possible directors have included Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard, Chuck Russell and Gore Verbinski (who still retains an exec producer credit on the final product). After much trouble, Ben Stiller took on both positions for himself and now it has finally been unleashed to cinemas. Has all that time spent in the kitchen made for an exquisite dish, or is this turkey overcooked?
From what I’ve gathered, the film is more a remake of the previous film than an adaptation of the original story, but still only very loosely. But in some cases, that doesn’t really matter; if the film is a good piece of work on its own, does it really matter if it follows the source material exactly? But respect for the original text is hardly what is fundamentally wrong with this flick. The film’s plot isn’t that outstanding, full of stock characters, plot contrivances, impromptu inspirational speeches and story beats that we’ve all seen before. However, the mediocrity of this tale is the least of the movie’s problems. After watching the film for a while, it becomes clear that Walter Mitty is a bit of a mess. The film suffers from tonal whiplash in several places, moving from forced sentimentality to off-beat comedy and back again. One minute, you might be watching a wacky fight scene straight out of Dragonball Z, then a few moments later followed by a warm romantic moment between Stiller and Kristen Wiig, and then suddenly into a bizarre parody of Benjamin Button of all things (that honestly seems like a deleted scene from Tropic Thunder). It feels like the filmmakers weren’t sure what kind of film to make so they just threw in everything in an attempt to appeal to everyone. Perhaps if the film had a little more consistency, it wouldn’t feel so scattershot. But the main problem I found was that film wants to look important but it just isn’t. It tries to promote all of these ideas about living life to the limits and pursuing your dreams, but it ‘s all been done before and it comes off as dishonest; they’re trying to be poignant instead of just letting it happen naturally. It feels more like a marketing team trying to be artsy for the street cred rather than someone who actually has something meaningful to say about the world. And for a film that is very anti-corporate, that is incredibly ironic.
Walter Mitty boasts a pretty good principal cast, but most of the talent feels either misplaced or underutilised. The role of Walter Mitty seems ideal for an actor of Stiller’s disposition, but only really on a talent scale rather than a physical one; the 48-year old actor honestly feels too old to be playing a daydreaming simpleton who can’t find a girl. Wiig is also a very talented actress, but her role never allows her to show off her more unique traits; pretty much any actress could have played this role and it would have felt exactly the same. Adam Scott is good at playing douchebag, but that is his one note throughout the entire movie that he repeats over and over. Shirley MacLaine does her best, but her entire presence in the film is the source of many of those aforementioned contrivances, whilst Penn’s role is just an extended cameo. Patton Oswalt provides probably the most enjoyable performance of the picture, and he’s just a voice on a phone for most of it.
The film has a very striking visual style, with beautifully shot landscapes and stark production design. It all looks perfect…and that actually hurts the film. It looks too clean, too constructed. All these shots of mountains and oceans feel less like they’re from an epic adventure story and more like clips from a travel agency ad. The constant and intrusive product placement doesn’t help. Again, all these pretty images may make the film look important but it doesn’t feel important. The visual effects are nicely done and the soundtrack is good, but all of the songs are used to spell out the emotion of a scene rather than just compliment it subtly.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a paint-by-numbers film pretending it’s something more by hiding behind breathtaking vistas and inspirational quotes; a Ben Stiller flick that thinks it’s a Terrence Malick production. The film feels calculated to every detail to be meaningful, but it all feels false. It’s certainly not bad but rather simply bland, and that’s almost worse in some cases. I think the film’s ultimate flaw has nothing to really do with the craftsmanship behind but simply with its goals. It fails to understand that poignancy isn’t something you set out to try and be, and that trying to just makes you look pretentious.
FINAL VERDICT: 5/10