Some movies just shouldn’t work. ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ is an absolute classic as the James Thurber 1939 short story and a test case on how to do a movie adaptation starring Danny Kaye in 1947. The story has been told superbly in at least two formats – taking on such a work of art is a risky business at the best of times. Does this new version bring it off? With some minor flaws, yes it does – the risk of copying a classic pays off.
Ben Stiller has put a lot of heart into this latest take on the imaginings of the worker-bee quiet man. He is one of the producers and gives the proceedings a surprising Indie/Commercial Crossover feel that this reviewer was not expecting and was quite happy to watch as a nice, fuzzy and, at times, emotional journey. Here we see a little man who decides (unlike the book) that his imaginings and hopes don’t have to be daydreams anymore, that he can live out his dreams. (Told you this was emotional).
Mitty is a man trapped by his fears, afraid to eat a peach, easily bullied and sad. There’s at least one thing we can all identify with right there, if only for the empathy. He works in photo development in Time Life. But as the internet and a corporate merger threaten the existence of the magazine, Walter sets off on a journey to find old school photographer Sean O’Connell, nicely played by Sean Penn. Walter needs to find a missing negative that will be the cover for the last ever issue of Life Magazine. He must also find himself and fall in love with the enchanting Cheryl (Kristin Wiig). The metaphors in this movie aren’t complicated, but they are compelling.
Credits for Shirley MacLaine as Walter’s Mother and the quirky Kathryn Hahn as his sister. There are minor downsides – a couple of instances of painful product placement – and that feeling that the film uses the brilliant short-story as a springboard rather than a foundation. But it has real feeling in it – it will cheer you up if you’re struggling with that back to work feeling. If you want to believe that sometimes, dreams are worth chasing, then you will like this movie. The featured scenery from Greenland and Iceland is stunning – worth the ticket price alone. Would Thurber like it? One could imagine him smiling and enjoying a tale of how to escape from drudgery and the jail of the Office and become free. A go see,and very satisfying, if you leave your cynicism at the door.