The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) cost $90 million to make but earned only $58 million. Even with the few bucks on PPV I spent tonight this is a film that seems to bely its own messages. It’s an affirmative movie for a dark time, something Frank Capra might have appreciated even if it‘s missing his kind of happy ending. “Dream big” it seems to say, or “don’t worry about the bottom line.” But it’s a nasty world we live in. In the 1930s FDR was President and everything was possible. Now in Obama’s Presidency? nothing is possible except negative commentary (and forgive me if i’m guilty of same…i miss Capra, miss believing in the impossible).
No, this is not the story as we know it from James Thurber, as elegant & understated a piece of brilliance as you could ever encounter. Believe it or not it’s available online, having first appeared in the New Yorker.
It’s been adapted several times for stage, once before onscreen with Danny Kaye, and now as a vehicle for Ben Stiller. I never liked the Danny Kaye version. I think I like Ben Stiller’s too much. It breaks my heart that this film is so true to its own world. This Walter Mitty’s daydreams are juxtaposed against an unforgiving backdrop of Life Magazine at the very end of its existence. Losing your job doesn’t have to define you, the film says. Money isn’t everything. Materialism is wrong.
I love what this film is saying even if its lack of success suggests that most people are too busy struggling to find a job to believe in its messaging. I think we’re in a time that needs Capra’s schmaltzy comedy more than Stiller’s subtle zen.
What’s particularly different about this film is that Mitty defies his own name to become someone different. That doesn’t mean he becomes rich or successful, just that he ceases to be a dreamer, and stops struggling. It’s deep.
There are two remarkable performances alongside Stiller. Kristen Wiig shows me that she can act, giving us a very laid-back presence that’s devoid of the usual frenetic weirdness with which she’s usually associated in her other roles. Sean Penn gives us a persona that might be a parody of Sean Penn, but even so is very enjoyable.
I am not surprised that the film seemed to confirm everything the bad guys in the film were saying. The values associated with print magazines & those of us who still remember how to read are quietly affirmed even though it’s a completely equivocal ending.
I wish I could forecast that in ten years or so, Stiller’s Mitty becomes a film with a cult following, even a money-maker. This is a beautiful poignant film to watch, but one that is bittersweet. I love this adaptation even though I wonder: will Stiller get another opportunity to direct? Or will the bottom line dictate that it’s not permitted..?