There are some actors that I don’t know how to feel about. I used to like some of their films, then they produced several off-the-boil films that did nothing for me. They were well meaning, but weren’t good. No, I’m not talking about Adam Sandler, who has produced several great movies years (and years) ago, but has been producing dross ever since. They weren’t “well meaning” films… they were just dross. Pure dross. Ok, I’m done with typing “dross”. Unfortunately, Will Smith is falling into this category now, as he’s not produced a solid hit in a little while now; it seems like his golden era is behind him. But this isn’t a review of a Will Smith film… it focuses on Ben Stiller…
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a big screen adaptation of a decades-old short story, this time starring and directed by Ben Stiller as the eponymous character. Walter works for a magazine called Life (imagine National Geographic), which is now coming to a close. Walter works in the photographic department and is charged with producing the front covers. So when the “perfect” picture arrives from illusive top photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn) and it’s missing… well… this causes some problems for Walter. But that’s not all; Walter is a dreamer. A day dreamer of the greatest magnitude. His life is very “routine” and orderly, but he often escapes into a land of fantasy, cooking up elaborate visions of the world around him. But questing off after Sean adds a bit of spice to this ordinary life…
So, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty has two sides to it: the mystery of “where is the picture, and how do I track down Sean?” and the fantasies cooked up in Walter’s head. This is also a bit of a problem with an otherwise charming and heart-warming film. The root of this problem lies with the fact that the story cannot decide whether it’s a comedy, or an adventure film. Some of Ben Stiller‘s past work has been very cut-and-dry: comedy or drama. This? Well… this veers between the two.
The strengths of the film lie in the dramatic adventures that unravel for Walter, and not the comedy. The comedic elements start off entertaining, but the more the plot develops, the more of a hindrance these jokes become. They come across as jarring and terribly out of place. However, if you can get past these jokes, you’ll uncover what is a beautiful story that’s lovingly shot and brought to the big screen. What really worked was Stiller‘s attention to cinematography, helped along in no small measure by shooting on location in Iceland and Greenland. Further, the accompanying music really adds to the “epic” nature of the film.
The plot was genuinely fun and it developed in an interesting way. Even the love story secondary subplot managed to twist enough to not be entirely contrived. Hell, it’s nice to see a single mum (played by Kristen Wiig) shown as the desirable love interest for once in a movie! But I need to return to the comedy element. At first, Mitty’s zoning out introduces excuses for either bombastic action sequences or for Stiller to dress up in costume and exercise some of his comedic muscles. Sure, he is funny… but it seems out of place considering the tone of the rest of the film. The light-hearted comedy that “flows” naturally into the pace of proceedings does work really well though. I understand that the tearaway sections are integral to the Walter Mitty story, but I just found myself more drawn to the “normal” story and the character arc of the protagonist. Sure, this arc is predictable and you can see what’ll happen from the outset, but it’s still fun to see. And ultimately, it proves one thing: growing beards makes you far more rugged and adventurous. Best grow myself a beard then…
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a heartwarming film perfectly suited to the Christmas period. Sure, some of the film’s tone is uneven and the comedic and dramatic elements don’t gel too well, but this can be overlooked, as the core story is exciting and enraptures. I’ve been dubious about what to expect from Stiller in recent years, as I can’t say I’ve actively sought out one of his movies since Tropic Thunder, but this was definitely worth the trip.
So I’ll admit it… I was pleasantly surprised by Ben Stiller here. I can’t say I was actively looking forward to the film, as the trailers made it out to be another case of “let’s dress in funny wigs and have accents”, but it wasn’t! Maybe Will Ferrell will be next to produce a film that goes against the grain and is genuinely good… Wait, it’s a bit early for an April Fools joke isn’t it?
While it wasn’t a perfect movie, it still surprised me how well Stiller could handle himself with this material. Even when it seemed like it was too much for him to handle in the first place. Good review.
It really did surprise me, even if the “Stillerisms” were still in there somewhere or another. Happy New Year dude.
I liked this a lot more than I expected to, especially since my local cinema kept introducing the trailer with an annoying little blurb from Stiller that made me want to scream.
Exactly the same! I guess you’re a Cineworld fan too then? I’d seen that long trailer too many times by the time the film started (bizarrely there was footage in the trailer that wasn’t in the movie…)!
I am indeed. Unlimited Premium card all the way! I found that with the Anchorman 2 trailer too.
I’m glad to read this review. I’ll be seeing it in a couple of hours. It’s really been getting mixed opinions but it interested me from the start even though I’m not a fan of Ben.
I think you might enjoy it Keith. It’s not stupid, and isn’t a normal Ben Stiller production (after you get past the first 30 minutes). I was pleasantly surprised!
Did they actually shoot in Greenland? I heard that all of that was in Iceland….. =) I hope that I can see this movie!
You might have me there! I can’t say I searched high and low for the information, but you may well be right. Both Iceland and Greenland look very alike when you boil it down! Thanks for stopping by though! 🙂
Hehe to me, they look completely different! But the wastelands can look very similar =)
I think you’re actually our very first Greenlander to come to Film Phage – welcome! According to the film, there are only about 9 of you on the whole mass 😉 – obviously an exaggeration, but welcome nevertheless!
And I’m not even a real Greenlander 😉
An Aussie in Greenland… I’ll still be counting it! Ha.
I didn’t go to see the movie. The trailer really put me off (I know you can’t trust them but this one I found especially annoying). One thing that bothered me is the film seemed to be ripping off “Forrest Gump” to an extent. Did anyone else think that?
Wow – I didn’t think of the Forrest Gump comparison. But by that extension – see The Butler if you haven’t already. Now THAT harkened back to the seminal Gump!
It was a decent film, not really what I was expecting from the trailer. To be honest it felt a little rushed somehow even though it wasn’t really that short. There was just a lot of plot and they skipped through it very quickly.