After watching Ben Stiller’s hilarious Tropic Thunder I expected his next directorial venture to also be a star studded comedy. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is not a comedy, it’s a tearjerker sappy dramedy, and it’s a bad idea because drama is clearly not Stiller’s forte.
The second film adaptation of the short story of the same name and hitting screens after decades of development hell, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is visually spectacular, but it doesn’t have a heart or a brain in its script to turn it into a memorable film. Stiller casts himself in the role of Mitty, an employee of Life magazine who frequently blacks out and daydreams about all kinds of stuff. On that front the movie is fun – the cutaways from reality to dream are seamless and moderately funny. It’s when the film tries to sentimentalize Mitty’s ‘problem’ and tries to make a statement about ‘quitting your job and living the dream’ that it fails to find footing.
One other problem is that Stiller in the lead role here is somehow dull and unsympathetic – you don’t feel anything for the character. Whether he rollerblades on an Icelandic highway, or escapes a volcano, or flies a helicopter and jumps into the ocean, or climbs a mountain in Afghanistan, his expression never changes. Stiller expects you to be blown away by the imagery and Mitty’s experiences but his own expressions don’t register that feeling. It doesn’t help that Kristen Wiig once again plays the exact same awkward mildly stuttering but likable character.
Stiller’s observations of the contemporary world remain intact. Tropic Thunder had a geek rambling about a Blu Ray player in a PS3 as opposed to lack of one in Xbox 360, Walter Mitty sheds some light on the sudden tragic death of the print industry. There are a couple of sequences where the film becomes completely over the top in Mitty’s daydream cutaways, if only the rest of the film were as engaging and intelligent as those two scenes.
(First published in MiD Day)