REVIEW: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

4 01 2014

24 hours before I saw “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” I was sitting in a press screening of “The Wolf of Wall Street” for three straight hours of sex, drugs, profanity, and despicable behavior.  Roughly an hour before I saw it, though, I was watching TCM’s broadcast of “White Christmas” with my family and listening to my parents ask once again where the nice movies are in theaters today.

It should be fairly obvious that “Walter Mitty” falls in line with the latter of the two aforementioned films; after all, it is based on a film from the 1940s.  And following an evening of watching a candle stuck wedged between Leonardo DiCaprio’s butt cheeks (one of the few shenanigans I dare to write about), it was just nice to watch a good, clean family feature.  Even though Ben Stiller’s film is nothing spectacular, its intermittently successful embrace from a bygone era is a nice change of pace.

Stiller, who also stars as the film’s titular character, does not drown the film in excessive sentimentality, often a hallmark of Hollywood’s golden age cinema.  But perhaps it would have been welcome had it brought any charm, which is largely absent from this languidly paced film.


As Walter begins to free himself from the shackles of his humdrum existence as a photo processor at Life magazine, his story unfolds slowly and without much narrative propulsion.  On the one hand, there’s something nice about the movie’s lack of hurry.  It’s just pleasant to watch his socially awkward flirtations with co-worker Kristen Wiig play out normally, with all the little pauses and lulls that make for real-life conversations.  And Wiig, in what might be her most subdue role to date, radiates an old-school style of pure kindness.

Yet the leisurely pace of “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” also just allows it to wander aimlessly, never really developing Walter as a character or imbuing the sense of wonder one would probably get from journeying to the top of an active volcano.  Instead, Stiller opts for Discovery Channel cinematography and the predictably clichéd music choice of Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up.”

Sure, it contrasts with droning at the office under the rule of bullying new leadership (Adam Scott), but there’s always a lingering sense that the movie could go further to bring about that unique kind of cinematic magic.  It’s tempting to fall in love with the idea and promise of “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty;” however, what plays out on screen is hardly as exhilarating as it should be.  The few points it does earn are largely because of the dearth of simple, sweet movies in today’s marketplace.  B- / 2stars



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