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.