The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’s plot, which concerns the title character travelling the globe to find not only his friend, but primarily himself, is almost comically ironic considering the film’s lack of a real identity. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty drifts through genres in a nonchalant way, switching between feel-good to drama to comedy without any rhyme or reason, desperately trying to find a purpose to why it exists. Ben Stiller directs and stars in this adaptation of the 1939 short story by James Thurber, which takes the title from the original text but not much else; Steve Conrad has penned a screenplay that greatly expands and also deviates from the source material, creating a film that really has no resemblance to Thurber’s original work. The ad campaign calling it ‘The new Forrest Gump!”, and the sentimental and overly bright tone screams out to the audience this is directly aimed at getting an Oscar or three. However, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty takes a couple of steps in the right direction, and then meekly falls flat on its face when it should really get going. There are a few redeeming features for Stiller’s latest project, but overall it looks and feels like a damp squib.
The biggest problem with The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is that it’s humourless and unforgivably boring. It drags on, making a few cheap jokes here and there, showing you some gorgeous scenery, but overall the film is a sum of parts, and doesn’t add up to anything of note. Everything the film does is in an effort to make you like it, but sadly it has neither the wit nor the charm to really pull you in. It really is a weird and bizarre little movie, but not in an original way; more in a gimmicky way. There is a strange scene where Kristen Wiig, playing Mitty’s love interest, sings ‘Space Oddity’ by David Bowie to him in his imagination, leading to an awkward slow-motion running scene in which all I was just wondering was “What were the writers thinking?” In actual fact, Stiller’s direction is unique and extremely interesting, using many top down shots and some stunning scenery, of which cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh should receive a portion of the credit. The film falls down largely through its shoddy and bland writing, stereotypical and two dimensional characters, plus a crucial lack of inspiration and fun, which must surely have been the films purpose.
For me, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty felt plastic and fake, as if Stiller and the writers didn’t really believe in what they were preaching, to go out and embrace life. Instead, it all just felt like one big high budget advertisement for E-Harmony, which is the primary focus of an unnecessary and extremely tedious side-plot. When the script is as awkward as this then blatant product placement does the film no favours, except in diverting our attention from a wildly implausible plot. The majority of the film, set in the real world, is just as plausible as the early dreams of Mitty where he occasionally has superpowers; later scenes where he fights a shark, runs away from a Volcano, and gets phone signal on a mountain in the Himalayas, all feel like another one of his dreams, and it never loses the dreamlike quality which prevents the audience from taking it seriously. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is boring, overly sentimental, a failed epic desperately begging for awards. One to avoid.
Walter Mitty’s imagination at one point brings us to a brilliantly scathing parody of the insufferable film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which succeeded in making me guffaw and invest a bit more in the movie. This is only a glimpse of what The Secret Life of Walter Mitty could have been like in different circumstances. The interesting and funny edge of the movie has clearly been lost in the rubble of too many development and casting changes; it’s a muddle of different unfinished films.
The sentimental and preachy ending is absolutely laughable for all the wrong reasons. I won’t spoil the final reveal, but the sickly-sweetness of it all is almost vomit-inducing in its predictability and complete overdose of almost brutal sentimentality. To get away with this kind of lazy ending you must first have created three dimensional and interesting characters; The Secret Life of Walter Mitty fails spectacularly.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a late Christmas turkey, a huge advertisement for E-Harmony and a cheeky claim for an Oscar that falls flat on its face. Although Stiller boasts some very interesting directorial techniques, and the cinematography is stunning, the ridiculous plot and boring characters make this one extraordinary adventure you’ll want to miss out on. Much like the hero himself, the film is struggling for a real identity, and ultimately never finds it. Stiller’s talents are better used elsewhere.