Film Review: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

James Thurber’s short story The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a well-known and popular tale that has already been adapted for the big screen in 1947, with Danny Kaye in the title role. 

Ben Stiller’s take on Walter Mitty is more of a re-imagining of the 1947 film rather than an adaptation of the short story, seeing as both films stray from their original source. 

Set in today’s world this version sees day dreamer Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller who is also directing) working in negative assets at Life magazine, looking for love and, with the threat of losing his job, going on the adventure of his life to track down famous photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn) for a missing photo. 

A modern fable with a great story that conveys important life messages, it will leave your heart feeling warm and your soul uplifted, whilst not becoming cheesy or cliché. Updated for our time, it is an important story for an age in economic recession that we could all learn something from.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is really Ben Stiller’s show. Saving Walter Mitty from being stuck in development hell with several directors and actors dropping out, Stiller offered to direct and star in the lead role. Although he has handled this difficult challenge before (Zoolander, Tropic Thunder), Walter Mitty presented new and dangerous ground as a more adult drama with only a small element of comedy. Stiller though has done a great job with this film belonging to him and he deserves to be thoroughly applauded proving himself a more mature actor and director.

Normally used to a more over-the-top style, Stiller shows that he can be subtle as a director, but he does put this experience to use. Opening effectively with a short scene of Walter on his computer staring at a dating website, we immediately connect with a character who feels real and genuine. 

Contrasting Walter’s fantastical and elaborate daydreams with his quiet and tedious life in reality works incredibly well, although some of the fantasy scenes are a little odd and do not seem to fit in with the rest of the film. Often quite melancholy dealing with issues such as loneliness and redundancy, Stiller develops the characters and story brilliantly ensuring that it is believable and that we feel uplifted at the end of the film, despite the harsh realism. 

When Walter goes on his adventurous journey you will want to punch the air with joy and go straight to an airport and hop on a plane yourself. Stiller’s film is inspiring instructing us to make the most of life no matter the circumstances, referring frequently to the motto of Life magazine but without becoming too cliché.

As Walter travels to Iceland, Greenland and even Afghanistan, the audience are also taken on this journey visually becoming absorbed by the beautiful cinematography. Vast landscapes, snowy mountains and even a stormy volcano are all shot beautifully making it a visually stunning film. Even the office and city is shot well, the clean and grey contrasting well with the colours of Afghanistan. 

Arcade Fire and Of Monsters and Men all feature on a great soundtrack that helps build the epicness of the adventure that Walter embarks on building the drama and spectacle.

Ben Stiller was certainly the right choice to play Walter Mitty. Great at playing the stereotypical everyman, he is just right for the part and we instantly fall in love with his shy daydreamer. He is not too introvert though that we do not believe the adventure he goes on. 

Inside everyone is desire to break free, travel the world and do amazing things and so it is easy to build an emotional connection with Mitty. Kristen Wiig is fantastic as Cheryl Melhoff Mitty’s love interest as is Adam Scott as Walter’s new boss. It is Sean Penn though he steals the limelight out of the supporting cast as the mysterious and extravagant photographer Sean O’Connell, but with Mitty appearing in pretty much every shot it is Stiller’s show and time to shine.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is perhaps the most uplifting film of the year that will warm your heart, make you smile and give important life messages that will leave you deep in thought. It really does belong to Stiller who proves himself an excellent director and actor in his best work to date. He deserves every success for this beautifully shot adventure that will brighten your day.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is out in cinemas Boxing Day

4/5 Stars

Written by Emily Murray