Over the weekend, I went to see “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” and had the best two hours in a movie theatre that I’ve had in a long time.
It wasn’t a particularly complex plot; I had the ending figured out fairly early in the story. But, the film was engaging and captivating anyway.
To review, Walter Mitty was first a short story by James Thurber. A very short story about a man with condescending wife. To escape his boredom, Walter’s life is filled with daydreams of heroics.
In 1947, Danny Kaye did a movie version of it and Walter then gets to sing too.
The new Walter Mitty does for the story what the BBC Sherlock has done for the detective. It takes the heart of the story — a man who feels small and insignificant and powerless in his own life — and puts it in a modern context. His life becomes Life magazine which is shuttering its print operations. As the negative asset manager in charge of photos, Walter doesn’t seem to have any skills that will transfer to the modern version. He’s trying eHarmony to impress a girl at work, but he’s got nothing in his profile because he’s not been anywhere or done anything.
Finally, circumstances force him beyond the safety of his world and to risk for the things that he wants.
The story is so good because Walter is an everyman character and because we all want, I think, to be part of an adventure that is so big and so beyond ourselves that it’s almost unbelievable.
Ben Stiller is serious in the role (and as a director) giving us a film that’s full of laughter. For those thinking of Stiller in his goofy comedic roles, this is not that. He is adult and introspective in it. It’s another form of catharsis, the awkwardness that makes Walter who he his so painful to watch that one can’t help but laugh.
Walter Mitty is the kind of film that makes you believe in the power of people and human character, that we can change for the better.