Rating: 4 / 5
The story (a take on James Thurber’s 1939 short story) follows protagonist Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) who goes from living a mundane life as an everyman office worker to one chasing adventure and romance.
From his dimly lit back office, where he serves as a "negative asset manager" at Life magazine, he finds himself constantly escaping to a fantasy world.
In his action-packed daydreams, he imagines himself jumping into a burning building to save his co-worker and crush Cheryl (Kristin Wigg), or seducing her as a sexy Arctic explorer.
Then things change when a team of malevolent corporate-types (helmed by Adam Scott from TV series ‘Parks & Recreation’) acquire the magazine, and are bent on taking it to the digital age.
Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller, far right) goes from office drone to adventurer
While they are in charge of overseeing the last print issue of the magazine, Walter is tasked with processing the final cover image by globetrotting photographer Sean O’ Connell (Sean Penn). The problem is, the film negative seems to have gone missing.
Spurred on by Cheryl, Walter sets off to find Connell and that elusive final image. He gets on a plane to Greenland and that is when the film really takes off.
It can get a little bit surreal, because it is hard to distinguish where fantasy ends and reality begins, but just stay with it because the film rewards you, and wins you over slowly, as Walter blossoms into the hero.
Whether he is tackling marine life in the ocean off Greenland, longboarding on stunning vistas in Iceland, or scaling awe-inspiring mountain passes in the Himalayas, he transforms into the heroic character he imagined himself to be.
Rather than a full-on comedy, as one has come to expect from Stiller, the film is an adventure tale with enough action and humour that gives credit to him as both actor and director. Stiller’s earnest portrayal of Walter is endearing. While the likes of Sacha Baron Cohen and Jim Carrey were attached to the film initially, you get the feeling they would not have handled the subject matter with the same gentleness and subtlety.
Stiller addresses themes of isolation, of finding one's identity, and the advent of the digital age with a broad hand, never forcing it down your throat. The romanticism of the film's premise – dropping everything to pursue your dreams – is well-handled without veering into cynicism.
Shirley MacLaine who plays Walter's mother, and Kristen Wiig who plays his crush, feel underutilised and fades into the background once the imagery and plot become larger than life.
Wiig, a 'Saturday Night Live' alumni, dials it back on her usual over-the-top oddball comic delivery for the role of the sweet Cheryl, possibly raising her credibility as a dramatic actress. (But a parody of 'Benjamin Button' in one of the dreamscapes with Stiller, quickly proves that good old Wiig hasn't gone anywhere.)
'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty' a film that is heartwarming, soul-stirring and inspiring all at once. It is clever storytelling, keeping your attention till the very end, because you want to know what the missing image is. And the payoff is well worth it.