“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is an unevenly elaborate picture that combines brilliant fancy and crowd-pleasing mediocrity and a couple of things in between. In trying to weave together ambitious introspection, artsy humor and blockbuster charm, it turns out as a whimsical flick that plays heavy on the uplift, but gets a bit vague on the vision.
It actually aims high that brilliance would really pop up every now and then. It doesn’t make it to the top, but it still ends up with a narrative that seriously garnishes itself with art film concepts without necessarily aiming things at the art film audience.
Based on James Thurber’s short story, which initially spawned a 1947 film adaptation, this Ben Stiller vehicle crafts the idle daydreamer character Walter Mitty into a virtual action hero and a hesitant risk-taker who finally frees himself from the bounds of his cave. After many years of simply witnessing globe-trotting adventures through film negatives as part of his work in a soon-to-close-down print magazine company, his elusive photographer friend and his new-found love interest lead him to an adventure of a lifetime. This tale features this weird co-worker and family member, known for his zone out moments that secretly bring him to his own fantasy world, embarks on a real-life global journey that becomes more extraordinary than anyone could have ever imagined.
This drama, comedy, and adventure piece achieves a certain flight of fancy, which makes it a sweetly intriguing offering fueled by easy-going charm. However, it takes a case of going one step forward in pleasing the popcorn crowd and one step backward in exploring the metaphysical and philosophical avenues of its deeply rooted source material. There seems to be a deeply calculated vision lingering around its inspiring seize-the-day tale. But more often than not, it fails to become the kind of life-changing film that can truly inspire the audience to take that leap towards the unknown.
It is worth noting that this movie provides a very specific airy tone of whimsy that isn’t very much apparent to its contemporaries. Although predictable in its plot points, it has a charm of its own and it doesn’t lack ambition in the hands of Stiller as both actor and director for the project.
There are small, fine moments of curiosity and wonder swinging perfectly in certain scenes. There is also that attempt to earnestly provide a redemptive and genuinely heroic story. Yet, the trite script still paves the way toward the mass territory. Its carpe diem idea doesn’t strike the core. Instead, it simply makes the film an escapist treat serving as a momentary distraction from real life’s own hustle and bustle.
The gorgeous cinematography and special effects wield a world that visually indulges. The picture mostly delivers loads of fun in its CGI-heavy daydream and adventure scenes.
More often than not, there is that strained effort to actually be life-affirming and profound in the story, but things end up overpowered by the need to anchor on spectacle over substance. This is not to say that this hit-and-miss material is not worth checking out at anymore. No matter how much it feels uncertain with its tones and intentions, there is still something wistfully engaging and entertaining about this film overall.