Ben Stiller is unarguably one of the masters of modern comedy, and has tried his hand at all manner of mediums from sketch comedy, features, writing, directing and producing. ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ may be his most ambitious project to date, further adapting James Thurber’s short story of the same name. He directs and stars as the titular Walter Mitty who lives an ordinary life working in the photo archive department of general interest magazine, Life, but he has a incredibly active imagination, dreaming up extraordinary scenarios which take him away from his humdrum existence. When his work announces its crossover to digitisation, threatening the job security of both Walter and colleague crush Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig) he finds himself with the task of arranging the final front cover image which is sent to him from photo journalist collaborator Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn), but when the negative goes missing, he embarks on an adventurous path which challenges to surpass even his wildest dreams.
There is an unbalanced mix of styles on show as the narrative has the beginnings of an awkward office rom-com before switching focus and almost leaving the love interest behind completely. The character of Walter Mitty is likeable enough, despite being rather typical, reminding me very much of the standard Steve Carell part, yet I struggled to root for him on his quest. His journey became tiresome and a lot less interesting than the dreamt up scenes in the opening third which were well choreographed and entertaining. These sequences could have and should have continued throughout his story but were sadly discarded as Mitty’s real life became more eventful though eventful doesn’t necessarily mean enjoyable. There are moments which stand out amongst the emptiness, such as a David Bowie karaoke rendition and a playful Benjamin Button spoof, both again though are imagined, and the landscapes look excellent as his search for the missing negative takes him to the Nordic beauty of Iceland and Greenland.
Ben Stiller is accomplished in everything he does, but even the best can slip up from time to time and while the film falls a little flat, he still manages to pull off a decent acting performance, involved in every scene and always watchable. He is seen playing the rare straight role, following on from Greenberg, allowing his circumstances to bounce off of him rather than being the creator of mishap as he has been known for previously. This time around, unlike the aforementioned Greenberg, I don’t think a believable connection is formed with co-star Wiig and during scenes between the two, I myself took to daydreaming, imagining him alongside Greta Gerwig, or even better Cameron Diaz.
For a picture surrounding a hapless daydreamer, ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ just isn’t dreamy enough but its a notable technical achievement for Stiller as a director, boasting wonderfully creative set pieces and stunning cinematography by Stuart Dryburgh. The plot slowly became predictable and felt very padded out, given that it had stretched what was originally a much shorter story, and the casting choices are sadly uninspired. Ultimately, when it reached its conclusion, it was an experience that I wasn’t too bothered about waking up from.
See the trailer: