Even as a man who’s not in the 40s, we’ve always imagined something bigger, spectacular, miraculous things to happen in our life. Whether it is as a form of expectation or regret, there is no denying we had become something at the very least, a hero in a near-impossible scenario. And this what Walter Mitty spoils us about: his secret life. He is a negative assets manager who loved to zone out into action-adventure packed with romance scenarios to escape his mundane life. However, when a negative is missing and his job is threatened, Walter embarks on a journey that only seems possible to happen inside his head into reality.
As much as the credit is written “Directed by Ben Stiller,” this doesn’t seem like his film (the credit is written, “written by Steve Conrad” though). From the opening scene, there’s a disparity of tone compared to Tropic Thunder or Zoolander. The atmosphere is monotonous, but the stylistic color in cinematography and production design subtly offers a grand adventure for hours to come. And the burning building scene. It’s wild, absurd, but create a base for the audience to understand the quirkiness of Walter Mitty.
The first thirds, revolving around the office of LIFE magazine could just fall into another rom-com office cliche. The tropes of the horrible boss, unnoticed department, and co-worker love is all there. But thanks to Stiller’s ability to visualize the absurdity of imagination into reality, it already manages to stand out for film falling into those genres. It overstays the welcome though, moving too slow to present the cliche and presenting us Mitty’s imagination that becomes so over-the-top it will just cringy you all over your bones. Yes, the imagination is compulsory to deepen its character, and personally, I felt very relatable on how much my mind works similar to Mitty’s mind. But the sign of an audience sitting in front of a moving screen while dozing off due to no progress in reality or the very least, its character is a no-no. When Mitty realizes that there are more clues of the missing negative, the film just steps the gas off to the fullest.
The adventure of Mitty is truly the selling point of the film. Climbing an icy mountain, cycling through Iceland until fighting sharks, most of the adventures never touch the reality ground. But it is what makes the film feels-so-good not just to any wanderers out there but to the whole audience. It is a blessing as well for Stiller’s decision not to include an overlong comedy of dialogues. The drama substance is the priority and the comedy is the topping, and Stiller had mixed the right amount of it for the film to work. Let’s also not forget how well the cinematographer captured and lit the film to give the film a clean look, letting us know that there is something beyond life.
Perhaps the only criticism that should be addressed is how words could ruin everything. It already serves a beautiful visual. Yet what the film seems to have missing pieces to connect the antiques are just placed with plastic of animation or worst, reading. Not only a place to give information but also over abundantly used in unimportant places. The audience obviously does not need to see the motto of LIFE while he’s checking-in at the airport. It feels like watching a film on TV with a music video as a commercial/ intermission that just ruins what may be a potential of critical success if the style is just being consistent. Nevertheless, the small flaw never really takes the fun out of the experience.
The film is adapted from James Thurber’s short story based on the same title but carries little resemblance with the story. I never read the short story but read many critics punch the film hard due to its inaccuracies. Those aside, I believe that Thurber’s story is meant to be a social portrayal of society, which is timeless considering the story was made 80 years ago while the film persuades people to live outside the mind and execute it in reality. “To see the world, things too dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other and to feel. That is the purpose of life.” After watching this, I just want to put this motto in effect despite all the limitations I had. It teaches us to really live our life and the film really persuades us as the end credit rolls.
Secret Life of Walter Mitty is not only a man’s wet dream being shown on the screen to be another wet dream but also targeted all the audience to actually feel the taste of life by creating the feel-good emotion. It’s been so long that I’ve felt happy and motivated after watching this film. It may not stand as a masterpiece or revolutionary, but a definite must-watch in the center of our existential-crisis society.