Beautiful things don’t ask for attention
A trip to the cinema is usually quite a passive experience; you go into a darkened room, sit quietly and soak up the images presented to you. So it’s rare, that instead of just zoning out into a fantasy world (like Walter Mitty does throughout the film) that by the end you’re left desiring something a little bit more proactive. But wait, we’re getting ahead of ourselves, first here’s a quick background check on this Walter Mitty character and his so called secret life.
The film itself has been hanging around Hollywood for years like a disheveled Lindsey Lohan, the story was originally adapted into a feature film in 1947 and ever since has been threatened with reboots and re imaginings galore involving just about everyone from Jim Carrey and Owen Wilson to Mike Myers and Sacha Baron Cohen. Directors like Ron Howard, Steven Spielberg and Gore Verbinski were also attached at different points, so you’d think that after so many capable hands had passed on the project that it might be some sort of poisoned chalice, but there’s no evidence that its long gestation has hindered the production, if anything, having finally rested with Ben Stiller, it may have finally met its perfect match.
Although younger generations may know Stiller purely from the Night at the Musuem movies or pulling funny faces in Zoolander, his directorial exploits have often had a more independent feel, like his debut Reality Bites or darker comedy’s like The Cable Guy. With The Secret Life of Walter Mitty he directs it like a slow meandering daydream at a pace that’s reminiscent of old classics (maybe due to some influence from the original 1947 movie) containing a disarmingly simple story line led by its visuals and mood instead of snappy dialogue, as were slowly guided on a big treasure hunt across the globe.
Stiller is likeable in the role of Walter, centring the film with an essential warmth, he reminds me of George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, the earnest guy who never quite got away to follow his dreams but honourably stayed to deal with his commitments. There are gags too for those wanting more than just subtle introspection, a Benjamin Button parody especially had me politely chortling like a Victorian gent (Lord Chortleton of Chortle-upon-Chortle to be precise *chortle*).
Sean Penn’s Sean O’Connell is perfectly cast as the film’s macguffin, a man so cool that if he beckoned you to go on an adventure with him you’d buy your plane ticket there and then and never return. A man with a face of leather that looks like its been beaten around the world a few times, and a forehead that would make Gordon Ramsay frown (which to be fair would only make it worse).
Kristen Wiig is the girl across the office that you just can’t help falling in love with, and she is so adorable, how could you not. Although I do worry that she is slowly becoming the token geeky guys girlfriend and she deserves more lead roles and not just to be the random love interest. Rounding off the small cast is Adam Scott playing a classic 80’s douchebag, adorned with shit beard and even worse put downs; at one point he shouts at Walter ‘Hey Cake Man!’ because, you guessed it, Stiller is carrying a cake, even though its a thinly drawn character, you’ll still take the bait and hate his guts.
One odd element of the film is the amount of onscreen advertising littered throughout the movie, once noticed its hard not to be distracted by it all, there are calls to Walter from dating site eHarmony, visits to Papa Johns, having some Cinnabon (whatever that is) and of course it’s all set around the offices of Life magazine.
The journey itself though is the important thing, even if the reason for the adventure is almost incidental (in this case he has to track down Sean Penn’s character to find a photo negative for the final cover of Life Magazine) like a travel brochure it promises that en route you’ll swim with sharks, get drunk on beer shoes with the 8 individuals of Greenland and laugh at the stupid foreigner’s attempts to pronounce the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallojokull, as if you could do any better. But unlike the usual package holiday (blockbuster movie) this one delivers on its tantalising promises, and in the process feels like it has been tailor made just for you.
The film’s stunning location cinematography is skilfully sound-tracked by Theodore Shapiro with a score heavily influenced by Jose Gonzalez’s melodic guitar which results in a moving mix of evocative visuals and bittersweet sounds. Making the film feel distantly related to other modern indie classics with top soundtracks like Garden State, 500 Days of Summer or anything touched by Cameron Crowe.
Walter himself is the thing of beauty that O’Connell hints about in the quote above, who does not actively ask for our attention, and similarly the film itself is a thing of beauty that deserves our attention, it may not have got the notice it deserved on theatrical release but I like the idea that people will randomly find it on DVD or on TV late at night and get whisked away on this dreamy adventure.
It would be easy to be cynical about this sweet simple film, to shrug at its syrupy message, write it off for its use of advertising and shout at Walter Mitty to ‘Wake up!’ but it would be like kicking Bambi square in the ball sack. In my view it does exactly what good cinema should do, it takes you on a journey, and if you allow yourself to get lost with Walter, then you may return home a little changed.
Rating: 1 big beer shoe out of 1 (that’s full marks!)
Here’s a lil test for you, if you can get through the clip below without feeling any kind of emotion then this film isn’t for you, if it stirs something deep within, then join us!