The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a film for anyone who has fallen prey to the seductress known as ‘the daydream’. Directed by and starring Ben Stiller, a man known more for his outlandish characters than his delicate acting prowess, Mitty is a pleasant surprise of a film which reminds its audience that daydreams don’t always just have to be dreams.
Based on James Thurber’s 1939 short story, the eponymous Walter Mitty begins the film as a normal, average guy who wiles away his mundane, unremarkable days in elaborate fantasies that largely revolve around him wooing his crush Cheryl (Kristen Wiig) in unique and exciting ways. The fantasy sequences are fantastically over-the-top, ranging from Walter jumping into a burning building to rescue a 3 legged dog, to him beating up his new douchebag boss (played brilliantly by Adam Scott) over a Stretch Armstrong doll. The CGI effects are excellent and all involved really ham it up to the perfect degree during these snippets.
However, one day Walter is forced to start living his adventures for real, and that is when the film really starts to matter. The sort of sequences that used to be part of Walter’s fantasies suddenly become all too real, and Stiller and his crew have really done well to give these moments a sudden sense of reality despite their fundamentally astounding nature. It really starts to hit home that you can do anything you set your mind to if you are brave enough, and as Walter’s journey to find Sean Penn’s mysterious photographer continues, so too does his growth as a human being. Walter finds release in his quest and he starts to become the man that he always wanted to be.
Perhaps the story is a little predictable in places, and at times you may wonder how much of the film is just in Walter’s mind (which somewhat questions the film’s whole point), however the execution and pacing of what is arguably a familiar tale is near perfect and the variety of filming locations is a feast for the senses. This film will appeal to fans of journey films like Into The Wild, The Way or any Michael Palin television series charting his travels around some exotic land, however it’s Stiller’s light touches of comedy which make Mitty more accessible that many journey films which can take themselves a little too seriously at times.
Essentially what makes Mitty so successful is the fact that Walter is every single commuter on a tube train or every single bored office worker desperately searching for something to give their mundane lives meaning again. It’s this everyman mentality that makes Walter a likeable and relatable character from the opening scene right through to the very final frame of the movie, which is beautifully understated. Walter’s journey is in part about taking a leap of faith and embracing every opportunity, no matter how big or scary, but it is also about learning to really appreciate the simple things amongst all the drama. What Mitty demonstrates is that life isn’t just meant to be an unremarkable, repetitive day in the office or a big CGI action-adventure; it’s about finding a balance between the big and small things that really give life its meaning. Walter starts the film as one sort of everyman, and despite his boundary-breaking adventures he still comes out the other side as an everyman. He is, of course, a different sort of everyman, who has learned how to be truly happy in his own skin, but he is still an everyman all the same.
You’ll either come out of this movie wanting to take your own leap of faith onto the next plane to Greenland or the Himalayas or you’ll come out just wanting to give your parent/partner/best friend a big hug, but either way you’ll come out smiling at the world. And you’ll probably definitely want Walter Mitty to be your new best friend.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is released nationwide on 26th December.