Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) is a negative asset manager at TIME Magazine who spends more time lost in his vivid daydreams than he does in real life. Once an outgoing, rebellious teen, Mitty longs to break out of his shell but struggles to find the right motivation to push him into gear. This motivation comes when he loses the negative that is to serve as the cover photo for the final issue of TIME. Desperate to track down this lost treasure, he gives in to his internal call to adventure and embarks on a crazy journey to find Sean O'Connell (Sean Penn), the photographer who took the shot. His journey will take him to Greenland, Iceland, Afghanistan, and back again but soon the focus of his travel shifts and Walter begins to truly rediscover himself.
I rarely feel the need to challenge the establishment, as it were, when it comes to the general critical consensus on a given movie. Art is subjective and while I often like or dislike a film more than the established critics, I don't feel the need to lead the charge of rebuttal. However, having seen The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, having taken note of the film's Rotten Tomatoes score (currently sitting at 48%), and having browsed through a number of negative reviews, I feel the need to lead said charge.
Most of the bad press I've read regarding Walter Mitty has boiled down to one of two responses: either the writer took issue with the film's expansion upon the original short story (written by James Thurber and published in The New Yorker in 1933) or the writer felt the film was reaching for heights, trying to connect to emotions, that it didn't get to. In regards to the first complaint, having recently read the original story, I feel good when I say it is excellent and also it absolutely would not translate to a full length feature in 2013. With this film, Stiller held true to the spirit of the book and expanded upon it in what I would say is a very fitting manner. And as far as the second complaint goes, I would much prefer a film have the ambition to reach for grander goals and fall short than to sleepwalk through a story without attempting to become anything bigger. I had no problem in the slightest connecting with Mitty and while it didn't end up as the iconic film it wants to be, it's still a stinking good film.
Simply put, I really, really liked Walter Mitty, to the point of outright love. It's a predictable story but one that is told with great flair and an even greater passion that I found infectious. Ben Stiller truly cares about this film and I think that bleeds over into virtually every frame. Mitty takes the viewer all around the world and the visuals throughout are absolutely stunning. I'd say this movie is worth seeing just for the camera work and the outstanding overall look of it all. All of the actors are engaged in the story and while nothing here is deserving of award contention, I found all of the characters to be likable and the performances to be solid. Penn is perhaps most noteworthy in a tiny role that reminded me just how ridiculously good that guy can be when he's invested in the movie. Kristin Wiig could've been given more to work with but I think she played her role well and there's an awkward chemistry between her and Stiller that suits the film. Mitty is also seriously fun to watch and highly enjoyable and for me, that general likability covers over most of its flaws. Lastly, there's a timeliness to the film that embraces the love for things that are rapidly headed toward extinction. The chosen medium here is TIME Magazine and the magazine industry as a whole but it could just as easily be book stores, film, or just about anything else that we hold on to in the midst of the turning tides of technology.
Maybe it's just me and my affinity for nostalgia. I have long said that I will probably be the last person to ever shop in a brick and mortar book store or to buy a physical CD and that part of me certainly identifies with the romanticism of Walter Mitty. But even if my heart was completely frozen toward that aspect of the movie, I would think there would be more than enough herein to make me respond favorably to the whole thing. Mitty is a warm, feel-good, highly enjoyable movie that the cold-hearted critics are straight-up wrong about. Grade: A- (Rated PG for a little language)