The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

December 27, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Adam Scott
Directed by: Ben Stiller (“Tropic Thunder”)
Written by: Steve Conrad (“The Pursuit of Happyness”)

In “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” Ben Stiller plays the title character, a man with a menial job working in the photo department of Life Magazine. Walter spends much of his time daydreaming about grandiose and heroic scenarios, mostly involving Cheryl, (Kristen Wiig) a co-worker he has a crush on. When the decision comes down to discontinue the hard-copy version of the magazine in favor of an online format, Walter must go on a journey to places he never expected (including inside his own imagination) to try and save his job and the integrity of the magazine.

One thing that can be said for “Walter Mitty” is that there is not a lack of ambition from a filmmaking aspect. Acting as both star and director, Stiller uses the budget to his advantage and creates a large scope, complete with big set pieces and visual effects. Regardless of the content, the film can at times be extremely beautiful to look at, especially during the portions shot in the Icelandic mountains.

The main issues with “Walter Mitty,” however, lie in the heavy-handed screenplay. The film has a clear message and has no problem whacking you over the head with it, losing any and all subtlety it could have had. One particular message that gets overplayed is the slogan of Life Magazine, which, of course, turns into the film trying to define “the meaning of life.” Not only is this slogan read over and over again, but it is actually visually presented to audiences. In these scenes, text is spread in various ways across the screen in sequences that lacks any sort of restraint. Stiller and screenwriter Steve Conrad (“The Pursuit of Happyness”) toy around with other themes like someone going through an adult midlife crisis and the lack of satisfaction with lifestyles that go along with those moments in someone’s life, but these messages are too obvious and are approached with kid gloves.

There’s a few moments of decent comedy throughout the film. Comedian and actor Patton Oswalt has a particularly humorous small role as a representative of the online dating company e-Harmony (one of the many not so subtle instances of product placement throughout the film). Still, “Walter Mitty” is an underwhelming, yet often picturesque tale of a man looking for more out of his life. Stiller and Kristen Wiig, who both bring in the reigns of their usual over the top performances, are both good here but nothing can save a screenplay lacking grace.

Young Adult

January 1, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Charlize Theron, Patrick Wilson, Patton Oswalt
Directed by: Jason Reitman (“Up in the Air”)
Written by: Diablo Cody (“Juno”)

It’s taken screenwriter Diablo Cody (Showtime’s “United States of Tara”) a few years to get the memo, but in her latest film, “Young Adult,” it looks as if she’s started paying attention to some of the constructive criticism aimed straight at her hipster heart. Besides cutting back a bit on the forced pop-culture references, Cody seems to have also put the reigns on the gimmicky prose that marked her fresh albeit frustrating pro-choice dark comedy “Juno” back in 2007. She really has! Honest to blog!

Despite my own “Juno”-related cynicism, I still found the Academy Award winner a sweet coming-of-age story that would probably brighten my day if I came across it on cable. The extreme likeability of Ellen Page (“Inception”) in the title role overcame the overly smarty-pants dialogue. With “Young Adult,” however, Cody and director Jason Reitman (“Up in the Air”), who reunite for the first time since the prego indie, don’t have that same advantage. Instead, Cody challenges both herself (and her audience) with a movie character as attractive on the inside as Michael Cera showing off his pasty chicken thighs in flimsy running shorts. It’s not an easy task, but with some surprisingly refined writing, Cody proves in possession of more creativity and humor than her phony pen name would lead you to believe. (That is, of course, provided you disregard her misguided foray into the horror genre with “Jennifer’s Body” as just a bad dream.)

In “Young Adult,” Oscar-winner Charlize Theron (“Monster”) stars as Mavis Gary, the kind of emotionally detached individual who doesn’t swoon over babies or cry over breakups. Author of a young-adult book series (think “Twilight Saga” scribe Stephenie Meyer without the vamps), Mavis subsists on Diet Coke breakfasts and promiscuous sex inside her filthy bachelorette pad. She spends her time watching trashy reality TV and living vicariously through the naive teenie boppers she writes about inside the pages of her paperbacks.

Having never really matured past her high school years where she was both lauded as a queen bee and loathed as a “psychotic prom-queen bitch,” Mavis enters into a delusional state of grandeur when she is included in a mass email from her ex-boyfriend Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) about the birth of his new baby. Instead of simply hitting “reply” and offering congratulations, Mavis misreads the message from Buddy as a call for help and decides to pack up and pay him a visit back in her small hometown of Mercury, Minnesota. There, the cold, calculating and materialistic Mavis forms an unlikely acquaintance with Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt), a dweeby former high school classmate she hardly remembers despite the fact his locker was right next to hers. As Matt, Oswalt gives a sincere and grounded performance much like he does in the lead role of 2007’s scarcely-seen dark comedy “Big Fan.”

“Buddy Slade has a life,” Matt says trying to dissuade Mavis from wrecking Buddy’s happy marriage. In that, he’s also suggesting that Mavis needs to get a life of her own, too. There is no epiphany or happy ending in “Young Adult.” Theron embraces her lack of congeniality with a remarkable combination of resentment, hostility, and self-hatred that is both uncomfortable and compelling, especially when the end result is such a colossal train wreck.