Sunday, May 25, 2014

MeekinOnMovies On....The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (Now Available On Demand!)

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was a short story about a man with an oppressive wife who constantly has flights of fancy in order to escape her meandering omnipresence. Due to its popularity and name recognition, a movie about the short story kicked around Hollywood for awhile, getting attached to names like Jim Carey, eventually finding its way into the hands of Ben Stiller, who stars and directs the very loose adaptation.  

Stiller's a great choice as he's an actor who built almost his entire resume on willingly embarrassing himself in front of Robert DeNiro, Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn, and most recently Eddie Murphy. In Meet The Parents he was brilliant at generating palpable uncomfortable silences that made the audience erupt with laughter. In Tropic Thunder he directed Robert Downey Jr to an Oscar Nomination for a comedy. Heck, the only reason Zoolander succeeded is because he played the titular character with such a serious earnestness you legitmately felt bad for the guy.

These are wonderful clubs to have in the bag if you're making a light hearted drama about a guy who thinks too much. And boy oh boy, does he come out swinging.

The story finds zone-out prone Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) as a weak-willed, shy, introverted photo processor for Life Magazine. Naturally he's attracted to a girl at the office, and in a nice touch is so socially paralyzed he doesn't anguish about asking her out, no, he anguishes about sending her a 'wink' on

Walter has fantasies ranging from saving the girl at work from a fire, to living with her in a weird Benjamin Button (another loose adaptation of a short story) kind of thing, and even little things like the right thing to say at the right time. The less outlandish ones sometimes go on for awhile before we snap back and see the scene was all in Walter's head. These scenes are irksome and annoying, not without purpose - ultimately giving us a window in Walter's world as both he and the audience feel the jerked around by his emotions. 

Eventually Walter finds himself butting heads with a new boss, slowly befriending the girl at work, Cherly (Kristen Wiig) and is ultimately charged with the task of locating a missing photo that's going on the cover of final print issue of Life Magazine. 

That little motivating factor takes him from the dour grays and pale blues of the Life Magazine office to the welcoming lush green pastures of Iceland and the bone chilling cold of the arctic - ultimately exploring himself along the way. 

We've seen this kind of thing before - a person goes on a journey of unintended self discovery, often in exotic lands, and arrives at some form of personal enlightenment. See About Schmidt, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Forest Gump, The Station Agent, and we can toss in that Julia Roberts flick where she goes to India. 
The point is these flicks come in numerous permutations from buddy comedies to feminist rallying calls to even classic stoner comedies. 

Stoner comedy? Yep. The movie has a lot in common with John Cho's arc from Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle if you replace weed with geeky photography talk. There are moments of broad comedy, unexpected enlightenment, uplifting resolution, and a drunk guy (not Neil Patrick Harris) flies a helicopter! Walter and Harold's change in outlook doesn't happen right away, and they aren't so inept at the start of the movie that their change is impossible, either. But most importantly they're uplifting in a way that doesn't feel contrived or overtly melodramatic. 

Especially in Walter Mitty, where there are no grandstanding proclamations of love or tell offs to the boss, and instead the confidence comes via posture and eye contact. Ben Stiller looks almost like a completely different person by the end of movie, and the change is so subtle you don't notice until you do, ya know? 

The Secret World of Walter Mitty is a light hearted movie with a gentle touch that is entertaining enough for the masses, and speaks to a specific kind of soul who may stare at the wall too long or pour countless thoughts into his coffee instead of his conversations. There's a not-so-subtle subtext in how Walter goes from the dingy basement of a dying magazine to the top of a Himalayan mountain in the span of a two hour movie, perhaps saying that the way he got there was as simple as realizing he could.


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