The kind of family film I wish was around more often. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is Ben Stiller’s daydreamer comedy, based on the 1942 James Thurber story and a 1947 movie with Danny Kaye, that has taken an outdated concept and contemporized it charmingly. Stiller is the eponymous dork Mitty, a dark room photo manager at the dying Life magazine before it transitioned into an online digital magazine. Mitty never goes anywhere, he can’t talk to dream girl Cheryl (Kristen Wiig, more sincere and good-natured than daffy), and he shies away from interaction even at his own job. But there won’t be a job, there’s a final issue of Life, and Mitty has lost the cover negative.
Mitty has spent so much of his adult life dreaming himself to be a superhero, that it’s a deliverance, a lifetime in the making, when he becomes an adventurer himself – track down the mysterious photojournalist Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn, as a bold trekker type) so he can reclaim the missing negative. All of his life, Mitty needed an excuse – and so it’s still responsible of him that he’s on a world trek to save the final magazine cover, and to prove his worth to his snotty boss (an apt Adam Scott).
It’s the images themselves first of Greenland, then Iceland, then Afghanistan, that empower not just Mitty, but the minds of young and old in the audience starving for movies that take them somewhere new. Stiller, the director of the film as well (his first film as director since the riotous “Tropic Thunder”), comes up with such awe-inspiring visuals that I wished he had held onto his shots for a few more seconds at a time. There must be a few Grinch-types out there that just want the story to move forward, I say, the bicycling and skateboard shots of Mitty in Greenland is better than the story.
Much feel-good humor will be had, thanks to the good-natured Mitty character who goes through a change of life from his adventure. Then there’s Wiig as the single parent and her likeable son who also likes skateboarding. And Patton Oswalt plays an eHarmony phone operator who urges Mitty like a life coach. I liked it when Mitty didn’t need the eHarmony or internet dependence anymore. There’s a life to lead beyond home and tech stuff. Stiller has a good eye for it, too.
125 Minutes. Rated PG.
COMEDY / FANTASY FILMS / WEEKEND FAMILY & DINNER MOVIE
Film Cousins: “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” (1947); “The Seven Year Itch” (1955); “Joe versus the Volcano” (1990); “Forrest Gump” (1994).