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“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” – Early Review (POSITIVE)

December 21, 2013

Screen shot 2013-12-21 at 9.00.58 AMBen Stiller has an interesting filmography as a director, beginning with shorts, to the cult series, “The Ben Stiller Show”, debuting his feature talents in the form of “Reality Bites”, following “The Cable Guy”“Zoolander”, and “Tropic Thunder”. All of his films have been known as critical and/or commercial success, with the exception of “The Cable Guy”, though to be fare the movie has garnered a cult following that would come close to films like “The Big Lebowski”“Dead Man”.

Now, with the holidays closing in, Stiller debuts his 5th outing as a director, and to put it simply, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, based on the James Thurber – New Yorker short story, his unique take on a man who dares to dream is vastly unique in many respects. It’s definitely not his best film, that still goes to “Reality Bites”, in my own personal opinion that is, but “Mitty” is definitely the one movie in his canon that leaves you with the right feelings, emotionally, and has this way of questioning your own values and needs in life.

Walter Mitty (Stiller), a constant day-dreamer escapes his anonymous life by disappearing into a world of fantasies filled with heroism, romance and action. When his job at Life Magazine, along with that of his co-worker are threatened for complete closure, and embracing the impending dot com transformation,  he takes action in the real world embarking on a global journey that turns into an adventure more extraordinary than anything he could have ever imagined.

I’ve seen the original Danny Kaye starring adaptation, and to be fair it is a classic in it’s own right, but that film was more joyous fluff about a man tired of his mundane job, his wife, and daily routines. Stiller’s film focuses on a Walter that is lonely, secluded, and fears the unknown, finding solace in his day-dreams, to comfort the fact that he may never do anything, as said in the film, noteworthy or mentionable.

Stiller does a few things right here, he manages to convey a character that is lost in his own self-pity without coming off as truly desperate. In many respects, this is a second coming of age tale, rather than a mid-life crisis. A great comparison piece to this movie would be Stiller’s first film, “Reality Bites”, about young adults entering the adult life in a post-college world. Finding their grounding, where they want to go, finding the right job, and making a substantial life for themselves.

Screen shot 2013-12-21 at 9.01.06 AMNow we fast track, years later, “Walter Mitty” picks up on these people at the high point of adulthood, they’ve achieved all the necessities to live, thrive, and survive, but something is missing. We all yearn for adventure, dropping everything and just going ‘somewhere’ unexpected and experience a world outside our personal one. Stiller achieves this ideal in the film and that’s what truly spoke out to me. I’m still in this “Reality Bites” phase of my life, and at the same time, I too dream of doing something unexpected, noteworthy, and mentionable. When movies reach to your core like that, it’s doing something right.

Now, the only problem I did have with the movie was the fact that sometimes it did get caught up in it’s own minutia of ‘subliminal’ advertising. The over saturation of things like Papa Johns or Cinn-a-bon in the film sprinkled throughout, well, when I see a movie do this, it makes me roll my eyes, because in my view point it detaches itself from the cinematic reality it’s establishing. We lose the substance that the film is trying to convey, when any movie does this, it comes off as cheap and desperate.

Having said that, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, may not be the best movie of 2013, but it’s one of if not the best feel-good movie of 2013. It doesn’t talk down or humiliate it’s core audience, fans of Stiller’s films will embrace it, and fans of his directing may also find the ambitious style a tad overzealous, but in it’s nature, the movie means well.

GRADE: B

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