Sunday, January 19, 2014

Snow Screen: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Released on Christmas Day but caught up in the overcrowded schedule was Ben Stiller's big budget adaptation of James Thurber's short story The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.  Written for the screen by Steve Conrad, Mitty tells the tale of a put upon office drone who works at LIFE magazine prepping photo negatives for covers and features.  Mitty is susceptible to spells of zoning out where he day dreams about being a vibrant, funny and adventurous version of himself; the one that tells off the boss, saves dogs from exploding buildings and gets the girl.  In this case, his sights are set on new employee and single mom Cheryl played by Kristen Wig.  With LIFE the publication about to be replaced by an online version, corporate guy Ted, with a really fake looking beard and a face that screams "punch me", played by Adam Scott, shows up to start firing people. 

Having worked there for 16 years, Mitty has developed a deep pen pal relationship with old school, "in the shit" photographer Sean O'Connell, played by Sean Penn.  When O'Connell's latest and greatest photo, the one that will be the cover of the final LIFE magazine goes missing, Mitty stops dreaming and starts doing.  With only his briefcase and the clothes on his back, Mitty spontaneously boards a flight to Greenland to find the elusive photographer and missing picture.  What follows is a funny, sweet, inspiring and beautifully shot piece of cinema.  The editing techniques in the film are superbly inventive and as a whole the film is a visual smorgasbord.

In a time of award movies based on real events and huge budgeted, overblown tent pole spectacle; Walter Mitty somehow manages to blend real life drama with sheer escapism and wonder.  Each of his day dreaming episodes is like a movie in itself: a romantic comedy, a superhero movie, a disaster flick, an action movie and more.  It kind of reminded me of 1992's Sidekicks, you know, where nerdy, asthma stricken Jonathan Brandis day dreams about teaming up with Chuck Norris in his movies to take out the bad guys and woo the ladies with guns, karate, milk and mullets? 

Anyways, watching the dreamer become the doer rang truer to life for this viewer than movies about guys with A.I.D.S and crooks running scams in 70's New York.  This is a movie for the dreamers and the people who are just trying to get by but aspire to be more.  While the flick had a few pacing issues in the final act, I still found The Secret Life of Walter Mitty to be one of the better times I've had at the movies recently.  It's a deft combination of comedy, heart and excitement.  A tale of finding personal enlightenment in the midst of change and challenge.  A real shame it hasn't done better financially or been recognized by all this award chatter.

Great trailer too:

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