At its heart, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is an analogue fable for our digital times: get away from your computer, from your all-consuming job, and start living for real, seeing people, seeing the world, making truly human connections. That such an analogue fable must make use of much digital trickery is obviously not lost on the filmmakers themselves, but the irony only makes Ben Stiller's sweetly melancholy take on James Thurber's classic short story about an harassed company man who lives vicariously in his imagination more poignant.

     Mr. Stiller's Walter Mitty, as reimagined by The Pursuit of Happyness screenwriter Steven Conrad, is now a photo archivist at Life magazine who sacrificed his life to the need to support financially his mother (Shirley MacLaine) and sister (Kathryn Hahn) after the unexpected death of the father. When Life is about to be shut down and converted into an online-only presence and an all-important negative for the cover of the last issue is waylaid, Walter is forced to take off in search of daredevil photographer Sean O'Connell (Sean Penn). Abetted by the office colleague (Kristen Wiig) he's taken an interest in and harassed by the new, heartless boss (Adam Scott), Walter's "secret life" slowly comes to the surface; Mr. Stiller is excellent at transitioning the film from reality to dream in the early oneiric sequences, then blending both to the point the viewer starts asking how much of this is really happening or is merely in Walter's mind.

     What's more exciting about The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, though, is just how much Mr. Stiller is the perfect actor to play the role, and how sensitively he directs both himself and the cast around him to serve the tale he wants to tell. It's the modernity of the film that is its true asset, the unassuming pragmatism with which the actor/director frames the tale while never losing the wide-eyed innocence of his daydreamer; it may shed a tear for the inexorable march of digital progress and the loss of analogue small things, but it refuses to look at it as "the end of civilization" preferring to see it as an opportunity to start something new. It doesn't grab desperately to what was; it lets go and moves on.

     A few of the more straight-forward humour interludes may be out of character for the film, the prevalent product placement is ambiguous enough to not cloud the film as much as it could. But at its heart, there is something wonderfully decent and old-fashioned about The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, a film that seems from the outside as another big-budget star comedy and turns out to be an unassumingly modest, thoughtful, lovely little meditation on the modern world.

Cast: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Shirley MacLaine, Adam Scott, Kathryn Hahn, Patton Oswalt, Adrian Martinez, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, Sean Penn
Director: Mr. Stiller
Screenwriter: Steven Conrad, from the short story by James Thurber, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Cinematography: Stuart Dryburgh (colour, widescreen)
Music: Theodore Shapiro with José González
Designer: Jeff Mann
Costumes: Sarah Edwards
Editor: Greg Hayden
Visual effects: Guillaume Rocheron
Producers: Samuel Goldwyn Jr., John Goldwyn, Stuart Cornfeld, Mr. Stiller (Twentieth Century-Fox, Samuel Goldwyn Films and Red Hour Films in association with TSG Entertainment Finance, New Line Cinema, Ingenious Media, Big Screen Productions and Down Productions)
USA/United Kingdom, 2013, 115 minutes

Screened: UCI El Corte Inglés 13, Lisbon, December 28th 2013


Popular Posts