The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Ben Stiller, in addition to directing The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, also plays Walter Mitty, the likeable anonymous everyman living a routine humdrum existence while daydreaming his way through life for fear of actually living it. That is until the LIFE magazine he works for decides to undergo a major restructuring, adapting to a new digital world that caters to a growing online market. 

Based on the 1939 short story by James Thurber, it’s a timeless classic that’s as relevant today as it ever was. The circumstances have been updated for a modern audience and given a more optimistic feel-good ending, but the story hasn’t lost its overall power and appeal.

Ben Stiller, While We’re Young (2015), Night at the Museum (2006), Zoolander (2001), is well suited to the role of the overly imaginative office clerk who lives in his mind more so than in the real world. Even online dating is a terrifying prospect and while building his online profile, Walter is dismayed when he realizes he has never done anything or been anywhere. All the adventures he had planned early in his life had come to nothing.

Visually the film is fun and playful, giving full expression of the more fantastical elements of Walter’s heroic fantasies. But in addition to the seamless digital action on display the film also takes us to actual naturally breathtaking locations around Iceland where much of the film was shot.

The magazine’s longtime adventurous globetrotting photographer, played by Sean Penn, who still clings to old-school techniques to capture his iconic images, has entrusted Walter with the negatives of his quintessential photo that will be the cover of the final printed issue. 

The company executives, who tease and make fun of Walter for his odd behavior of zoning out when in a day dream, threaten to fire him when the negative for the magazine cover goes missing. He must now go on a daring mission to find it by tracking down the elusive photographer who is somewhere in the rugged volcanic terrain of Iceland or maybe it’s Greenland.

With a great deal of humor and Ben Stiller’s hilarious trademark awkwardness, the film is both entertaining and poignant as the timeless theme of striking out and facing our fears while living life to the fullest, as corny as it may sound, still works it’s inspirational magic.

Inspired by his affection for a girl who also works at the magazine, Cheryl (Kristen Wiig) recently from The Skeleton Twins (2014), Walter gradually learns to overcome his fears and manages to muster enough courage to get onto a plane and head for the unknown. His day dreams eventually lessen as he begins living them.

This heartwarming film was clearly a labor of love for the filmmakers who have instilled the beautifully shot movie with a strikingly whimsical visual design; from the sterile cool steely monochromatic look of the office spaces and New York City towers, to the scenic barren panoramic landscapes of Iceland.

For those not familiar with the book, I encourage anyone to rediscover this cautionary tale of the consequences of not allowing yourself to live up to your full potential. As the film tells us; Stop dreaming, start living.


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