Ben Stiller directs and stars in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, a rom-com fantasy adventure about a quiet and reserved photo archivist who escapes the banal mundanity of his life by visiting his fantastical daydreams. And it’s quiet fun, if you like that sort of thing.
Stiller’s best known for his performances in comedy classics such as Zoolander and the Meet the Parents/Fockers films but he’s also dabbled in directing over the years and shows here that he’s clearly learnt a thing or two since his low-fi directorial debut of 1994, Reality Bites.
What is, on the surface, just a special effects enhanced romantic comedy vehicle quickly develops into a visually and thematically engaging piece of moviemaking. This is in no small part owing to the stunning beauty of the landscapes encountered on Walter’s adventure to Iceland and the crisp and epic detail in which they are captured by cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh, most famous for his work on the critically acclaimed The Piano (1993) for which he received an Oscar nomination (unfortunately for him that was the same year as Schindler’s List…).
It isn’t particularly original in anything it does but it is very solidly constructed which allows you to enjoy and engage with the characters and their performances. Kristen Wiig brings her usual hot-but-approachable cool to Cheryl, who serves as the focus of Walter’s daydreams and his inspiration to push himself to be more adventurous, and she’s a cute and likeable supporting character. In fact, their relationship is surprisingly believable and this is testament to both Stiller and Wiig as highly talented comedy actors. Sean Penn pretty much steals the show with his cameo as legendary photographer and all-round-philosophical-cool-dude Sean O’Connell, lending his heavyweight Hollywood gravitas at just the right moment and in just the right amount.
The special effects at the beginning of the film are actually very good and get the appreciative belly-laughs from the audience they deserve but it’s really when Walter stops daydreaming and the SFX take a back seat that the film starts to pick up.
There is certainly something about this film. It’s not going to change the world but it definitely has its place within it. Charming and a pleasant movie-going experience, Stiller is maturing nicely as a director and an actor, as he proves admirably here. The message of Walter Mitty is ‘go for it whilst you still can’ and you can apply that to going to see the film too. So maybe you should…