The sad irony that nags unheard at this wonderful movie is that all of the major studios have it in train to stream their newest productions directly into your living room the minute the last edit is done.
Meaning that soon, with the sloth of online shopping and the quicksand of social media, none of us will need to leave the house to do anything – least of all become involved in the sort of life-affirming individualism encouraged by Walter Mitty’s awakening.
In The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty, Ben Stiller doubles as director and he seems initially to be more at ease in front of the camera.
Walter develops the negative prints that are submitted to LIFE magazine by its photographers scattered around the globe. The one that will be used to provide the cover for the last issue of the venerable publication has gone missing and it’s the responsibility of Walter, a perennial daydreamer, to find it.
There is a flatness, a staid quality about the film’s introductory scenes that doesn’t augur well – Walter’s unrequited love for fellow worker Cheryl (Kristen Wiig) and his downtrodden status in the office is clichéd, while his major flight of fancy, involving a cross-city fight with his tormentor Hendricks (Adam Scott), appears as just another exercise in CGI overkill.
But when he travels from New York to Greenland in search of the legendary photo-journalist Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn), the story takes wings. The transformation happens in one exhilarating moment as Walter, imagining that Cheryl is urging him on by singing Bowie’s Space Oddity (it has never been put to better use), fearlessly leaps into a helicopter as it is taking off, freeing himself from all of his terrestrial inhibitions.
Stiller has always been good as the hapless Everyman who is nonplussed by circumstance, so Mitty’s journey of personal liberation is doubly affecting because it is not that of a typical hero.
The final shot, of the long-awaited cover, is heart-swelling, as is the casual intimacy with which Walter finally gets to hold Cheryl’s hand.
~ John Campbell