The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

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..?

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7 Responses to The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

  1. Boj says:

    You didn’t like the Danny Kaye version?! I could watch him paint a house or do laundry. Even in so so movies I am glued.

  2. dehggial says:

    I don’t know that Capra’s schmaltz is something our world can relate to. But maybe it’s just me. And whereas I liked the original story a lot, I resisted watching the film so far but you’re making a good case for it.

    • barczablog says:

      Good question! (can our world relate?) I invoke Capra because nowadays no one seems to be standing up to the tyranny of big business. Sentimentality is sometimes a good tactic, a great way to remind people of values they once held.

      I regret that i missed it on the big screen (Stiller made a beautiful film), and looking forward to watching it again tonight.

      • barczablog says:

        You want an incentive to see the film? Yes it’s considered a “flop” because of its failure at the box office, but it is associated in my mind with another expensive quirky film, Terry Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. The public prefer gun-play, car chases and PG cartoons.

      • dehggial says:

        I agree something needs to break our collective complacent attitude. Maybe it’s sentimentality, who knows.

  3. Hmm, very thoughtful review. Well, working on your last thought, I imagine that Ben Stiller is very much loved in the industry, and (more importantly) still considered bankable, to still be able to bring out future directing gigs. This Mitty shows that he is very much willing to play ball with the big guys: while it has a tender heart at its core, it is also yet another bloated Hollywood crowd-pleaser. This is not a Ben Stiller who is not concerned about crowd pleasing! Obviously, this Walter Mitty extravaganza could have been much more nuanced and understated. This is started to sound better than my original review on my own blog. Anyway, all that said, I did enjoy it!

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