Some movies were just made for me. The Breakfast Club, for example. Yeah, you’ve probably seen it, but it was made for me. Same goes for Baseketball, Scott Pilgrim and Zombieland – yep, they were all made with me in mind. Well, it turns out that unbeknownst to me, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was actually made for me too. That’s okay. I’ll let you go see it. I’m nice like that.
Walter Mitty, played by Ben Stiller, is an introverted, timid, awkward kind of soul who, as you already know, spends portions of his day zoned out in daydreams where he is the heroic, romantic figure he fails to be in real life. When he’s not daydreaming, he’s a negative asset manager for Life magazine, in charge of all the photographs that make it to print. Despite the importance of the role, he’s a very small cog in the machine. Times are tough at Life and soon everyone’s job is on the line as the title transfers to an internet-only publication. Acclaimed photojournalist, Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn), sends Mitty a roll of negatives, one of which — number 25 — apparently contains the absolute essence of Life magazine and should be used as its final front cover. The only problem is, number 25 is missing. Gradually, Mitty’s co-worker and potential love interest Cheryl (Kristen Wiig, who I half-expect to see in my refrigerator as she’s in everything else right now) and his mother (Shirley MacLaine) convince Mitty to track O’Connell down in the hope that he still has the negative. The only problem is, other than the other only problem I mentioned earlier, the last anyone heard of O’Connell he was in Greenland and as the unadventurous Mitty notes, you can’t get there by train.
There will be absolutely no prizes on offer for anyone correctly guessing the themes that are employed here. Yes, Walter is on a literal and figurative journey. And yes, during that journey in search of Life’s final front cover, he’s going to find a life for himself, he’s going to become his own daydream. And yes, I find myself in that middle-aged demographic that the movie is aiming at, telling me it’s never too late to seize the moment. But I have to say, for its two-hour length, it absolutely charmed me. It’s one of my favourite movies of the year. I didn’t expect to be saying that.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is undoubtedly Ben Stiller’s most ambitious directorial project to date, not that there’s much in the way of competition, but I was impressed with how well-controlled and considered the story-telling is. He’s offered spade-loads of help from Steve Conrad’s excellent script, which isn’t short on comedy when it needs it, handles the sentimental moments without resorting to shmaltz, and is genuinely thrilling during the more adventurous scenes — particularly the downhill skateboarding — where it forced me to hold my breath.
From an acting perspective, I’ve enjoyed most of Stiller’s oeuvre, and he’s note-perfect here, convincing through the various stages of the journey where it was interesting to see him play a very everyday sort of character. Kristen Wiig is fast becoming one of those dependable names and while her role perhaps could’ve been expanded, she’s there as more than a mere love interest and she plays the part with a quirky heart.
Visually, it’s magnificent. Bear in mind that I saw The Hobbit yesterday, so the fact that I even noticed more than the fact it’s in colour speaks volumes, but it felt like every frame could have been lifted out of National Geographic. Even the credits and super-impositions are fantastic. It’s an absolute treat on the eyes. Lucky, lucky eyes.
So yeah. It was made for me. I’m conscious that this is probably blinding me to some of the movie’s shortcomings which will be blindingly obvious to anyone who the film wasn’t made for. For those people, I feel truly sorry.
I loved it. A triumph.