The Secret Life of Walter Mitty has gorgeous landscape shots and an intriguing story idea, but not much else. Character decisions often feel a little unbelievable and sometimes even preposterous. It’s a great Christmas time family movie, since it’s accessible, heartwarming and fun, but it won’t last beyond the holidays.
Walter (Ben Stiller) is your classic daydreamer, bored by his life and desiring to escape into Hollywood-style realities. He wants to be an action hero, a love god, etc; but this was not always the case. Walter used to be more of a daredevil, which is how the film explains his quick transition from square to adventurer. This is a very problematic story point. Walter is meant to represent the restrained societal being, the cowardly square. Ultimately, he winds up being a person with a father complex. There’s nothing wrong with that, but Stiller wants to have it both ways.
Throughout the film, Walter is trying to court co-worker Cheryl (Kristen Wig). This love story feels contrived, despite strong moments. She’s actually an excellent example of how the reactions characters have don’t match the extremely high stakes of this movie. I was astounded by how calm Cheryl is when Walter calls her on the phone describing dangerous situations that someone like him would never be found in. That being said, there were times her character was used beautifully. In one moment, when Walter has finally begun to take risks, he channels her in his mind for encouragement to jump onto a moving helicopter while the classic David Bowie song Space Oddity plays in the background. It’s actually quite memorable. Still, these successes are few and far between. Moments in this film are strong, but the cohesive whole is less than the sum of its parts.
I found The Secret Life of Walter Mitty very disappointing, but I still have hope for it. Perhaps on future viewings, when I’m not holding it to the standard of the Coens, Jonze and Farhadi, it’ll crystalize.