Director: Ben Stiller
Stars: Ben Stiller, Kristin Wiig, Adam Scott, Kathryn Hahn, Shirley Maclaine, Sean Penn
Running time: 110 minutes
Written by Tara Aquino (@t_akino)
If you don't like the trailer for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, you won't like the movie. The two-minute teaser primes you for everything you can expect of the two-hour film: earnest life-affirming scenes set to similarly affecting music, National Geographic-like cinematography, and sweet, harmless characters. It won't rally the Academy to give it all the Oscars, but it will gather your family in a movie theater on Christmas day.
20th Century Fox knows exactly what this movie's strengths are, and the studio is cashing in on it with a December 25 release date. Walter Mitty has the kind of story that will inspire your New Year's resolutions. Loosely based on James Thurber's short story of the same name, Stiller's version toes the line between fantasy and reality, leaning more toward the former. It's a bedtime tale, complete with a gentle hero, a beautiful damsel, and a cartoonish villain.
The story follows Stiller as the titular character, a daydreaming pushover who, in his personal life, can't even populate an e-Harmony profile with interesting facts. Professionally, he processes photos for the imploding LIFE magazine. With the heavy-handed managerial efforts of Mitty's boss, played Adam Scott, fittingly characterized as a Rocky and Bullwinkle-type villain, complete with a remarkably defined beard, the print version is folding, making way for the online era. And making Mitty more obsolete than he already feels. But not before the last issue is printed.
Tasked with processing photo no. 25 from famed photographer Sean O'Connell (Sean Penn, who's got the best lines of the film) for the final issue, Mitty runs into a problem: he can't find it. Just another drawback to add to his already frustrating life. He's the sole breadwinner in a family of three—his sister is a struggling actress (Kathryn Hahn) and his mother (Shirley Maclaine) is retired and in need of a new home— and the financial pressures are mounting. It doesn't help that he zones out like a crazy person, imagining scenarios from everything from dueling with his boss to an unexplainable Benjamin Button fantasy with the girl of his dreams: Cheryl Melhoff (a sweet and subtle Kristin Wiig), Mitty's co-worker who's a single mom fresh out of a breakup.
It's through Melhoff, and a persistent e-Harmony phone operator who insists he beef up his account, that Mitty's encouraged to find photo no. 25 himself by tracking down the elusive O'Connell. This sends him on a fantastical quest to Iceland, Greenland, and the Himalayas, where Mitty comes into his own. This is real life this time. The daydreams lessen the more he pushes himself to live out his fantasies.
What follows is a series of picturesque sequences that look like Arcade Fire, Jose Gonzalez, and David Bowie music videos. For cynics, the sentimentality of these scenes is indigestible. But for those who've already fallen for Mitty by this point—OCD-like ticks and an inexplicable proficiency at skateboarding and all—it'll only serve to lift the mood even higher.
For those who fall in love with the film, LIFE's motto ("To see things thousands of miles away, things hidden behind walls and within rooms, things dangerous to come to...to draw closer...to see and be amazed") will replay in their head over and over again. They're lines hammered home in the film, painted on walls and all over Mitty's imagination. For those who can't stand its sweetness, the only thing they'll fixate on is the endless Papa John's product placement.
Do yourself a favor when you see this film: Don't look for something to shit on. Just go to the theater on Christmas day, after all the presents have been opened, and enjoy it for what it is.