The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (PG)

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Review byMatthew Turner20/12/2013

Two out of Five stars
Running time: 114 mins

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty boasts some stunning scenery and a handful of likeable performances, but it's let down by a trite script, a distracting amount of shockingly blatant product placement and, ironically considering the source material, a lack of imagination.

What's it all about?
Directed by Ben Stiller, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is based on a 1939 two-and-a-half page short story by James Thurber that became part of the language, with “a Walter Mitty figure” coming to mean a hopeless day-dreaming type whose fantasy life is at direct odds with their drab reality. Bearing no relationship to the 1947 Danny Kaye film version, this modern update stars Stiller as Mitty, a hopeless day-dreamer who works in the photo department of Life Magazine and harbours a secret crush on friendly co-worker Cheryl (Kristen Wiig).

When obnoxious bearded money-man Hendricks (Adam Scott) announces that Life Magazine will be printing its final issue, Mitty is threatened with redundancy unless he tracks down a missing negative from adventurer-slash-photographer Sean O'Connell (Sean Penn), a negative that has been ear-marked for the front cover of the final issue. Inspired by Cheryl, Mitty sets off on a real-life adventure that will take him to Greenland, Iceland and the Himalayas.

The Good
Stiller delivers a likeable performance as Mitty, particularly in the first half of the film when he's more put-upon schlub than globe-trotting adventurer. Wiig is equally good as kind hearted Cheryl, but she's criminally under used, though she does get to appear in the film's best scene, when Mitty is inspired to get on a helicopter piloted by a drunken Icelander (Olfur Darri Olafsson), because he fantasises about Cheryl singing Major Tom to him.

In addition, there's strong support from Shirley Maclaine and Kathryn Hahn as Mitty's mother and sister (also under used), while Patton Oswalt has a nice turn as an eHarmony helpline employee who takes a not-strictly-professional personal interest in Mitty. On top of that, the film is beautifully shot throughout, courtesy of Stuart Dryburgh's cinematography, which makes the most of both the stunning landscapes and the crisp, Mad Men-like office interiors.

The Bad
Aside from a lack of chemistry between Stiller and Wiig, the film's main problem is that the script fails to engage on an emotional level - it settles for the bland straightforwardness of its rather trite Just Do It message and ends up coming across like an advert in the process. It also, ironically, suffers from a crucial lack of imagination (almost all the fantasy scenes are in the trailer) and pretty much abandons the whole day-dreaming comedy premise at around the halfway mark.

In addition, the film is blighted by some aggressive and distracting product placement, with three companies in particular becoming the focal point of scenes, e.g. “Hey, did you know there's a [insert well-known brand here] in Iceland?”

Worth seeing?
Stiller's likeability ensures that The Secret life of Walter Mitty remains watchable, but it's ultimately let down by a trite, unimaginative script that fails to connect either emotionally or dramatically.

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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (PG)
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Content updated: 08/12/2019 12:45

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