Monday, August 11, 2014

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

A movie that came out in 2013 that resonated with me stronger than most is today's movie I am covering, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (trailer). When I sat down with a couple friends at the beginning of the year to do our annual top 10 films of the year podcast, of the roughly 65 movies I saw of 2013 at the time, Walter Mitty ranked in at #2. When mentioning this film to other people, it is usually greeted with a resounding "meh," and on it weighed in at a mediocre 51% rating. Despite its high ranking on my list, I still have a few grievances with it, but enough prefacing, let us get on with the blog to find out what made me give it the benefit of the doubt.

Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) is a middle aged man starting off his birthday in a horrible way when he discovers his longtime job at Life magazine is at jeopardy when it announces it is shutting down the magazine and will go through significant downsizing as it transitions into an online only platform. He gets the news from new transition manager Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott), who Walter instantly despises. When Walter loses the negative for the final cover of Life that arrives from legendary photographer Sean 'O Connell (Sean Penn), it sends Walter on a journey overseas to track down the iconic photographer with the help of his office crush, Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig).

I have not been a huge fan of the traditional Ben Stiller style of comedy he is known for. The only movie of his that somehow won me over was 2004's Dodgeball. Before that, I would have to go all the way back to his breakout directorial success with 1994's Reality Bites. Like Reality Bites, this one tends to be more of a serious film, minus all the fantasy bits. There are several parts throughout the film where Walter "zones out" and goes off to fantasy land where he is either sticking it to Ted, or finding a super macho way to win over Cheryl. A few of these fantasies actually have some really good CG and special effects, but they happen too frequently and overstay their welcome early on.

I get why Stiller went in this direction however as these fantasies are a character flaw of Walter's getting in the way of standing up to Ted and winning over Cheryl. As the movie proceeds and he ventures overseas to track down Sean, Walter starts to break out of his shy shell and the fantasies happen lesser and lesser until he overcomes them to track down Sean and find what he is looking for. I think Stiller could have got the same message across with a smidge less fantasy scenes, and it looked like he already trimmed down a couple from what made the cutting room floor on the deleted scenes on the disc.

I guess this film won me over because I loved the message of it so much, and there are some pretty impactful scenes that struck a chord for me. I can relate a lot to Walter over my years with a lot of things holding me down, and to take the courage to break out of your shell and overcome those hurdles to ultimately get where you need to be is a message the movie gets across splendidly. It also helps that Walter has a strong support group in the form of his mother (Shirley MacLaine) and sister (Kathryn Hahn) nudging him in the right direction throughout.

There is about an hour of extras on the disc. Make sure to check out the previously mentioned deleted scenes as there are some extended/alternate takes on the fantasy scenes that did not make the cut worth going out of your way to see. There are several mini behind-the-scenes features totaling just over a half hour. The more entertaining extras touch on the production of the fantasy scenes, while others provide insight on what it was like casting and filming in Iceland. Also make sure to check out The History of Walter Mitty as it goes into the 1939 origin for this film off a short story from a 1939 issue of The New Yorker I previously had no idea about. I am a little bummed there is no commentary track from Ben Stiller, but this is still a pretty decent smattering of extras all around.

It is a little difficult for me to give a gushing recommendation to Walter Mitty after seeing the lukewarm reception it got from my friends and other critics. I guess this is one of those films that jumped out at me in a special way than it did for barely anyone else. Usually that is the case for a couple movies a year for me, and if overcoming personal struggles to achieve life's goals may seem like an interesting concept to you, then I think you cannot go wrong with The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

Other Random Backlog Movie Blogs

21 Jump Street
Bounty Hunters
Captain America: The First Avenger
Field of Dreams
The Fighter
Running Films Part 1
Running Films Part 2
Source Code
Veronica Mars

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