'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty' (2013) Movie Review

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty movie review
Ben Stiller in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Photo: 20th Century Fox

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty begins as a series of Hallmark catchphrases before evolving into something more interesting and substantial. The title character, played as a low-key, foot shuffling dweeb by Ben Stiller (who also directs), daydreams a series of events, taking him out of his day-to-day monotony as a 16-year employee at LIFE magazine and into a series of mini-adventures wherein he's the hero. Cute, at first, these little scenes grow tiresome and are rarely necessary. Thankfully, about midway through, the story begins to gain steam, the daydreams go away and the film begins to actually be about a little something more than cutesy moments of escapism.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Grade: C

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" is a 20th Century Fox release, directed by Ben Stiller and is rated PG for some crude comments, language and action violence. The running time is .

The cast includes Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Shirley MacLaine, Patton Oswalt, Adam Scott, Kathryn Hahn, Josh Charles, Sean Penn and Adrian Martinez.

Working in the photo department at LIFE, Mitty is tasked with prepping the latest photo from the magazine's top photographer, Sean O'Connell (Sean Penn), a photo that will serve as the final print cover image as the magazine is transitioning to a digital-only model. As takeover execs march into the office, led by a bearded asshole played by Adam Scott, Mitty suddenly realizes this "quintessential" image from O'Connell has gone missing and thus becomes the story's MacGuffin.

In his efforts to track down the missing negative, Mitty finds his mind and eye wandering, largely in the direction of new LIFE employee Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig) to whom he's taken a liking and will eventually spur him on to abandoning his daydreams and living out his own, real life adventure.

As crunch time closes in, Mitty takes her advice and sets off to tracking O'Connell at his last known whereabouts... Greenland. Mitty's wildest daydreams have become his real life as he skateboards toward an erupting volcano, punches a shark and lays in wait of a snow leopard. Mitty's daydreaming is a thing of the past and he's now living his life, but to say the film is "about" much else would be a bit of a stretch.

We definitely learn all about eHarmony "winks" and get to watch Mitty and his eHarmony operator, Todd (Patton Oswalt), share and talk about how great Cinnabon is, but I'm not sure that's what the film is about. Though during those specific scenes that certainly seems to be the case.

However, there's an earnestness to The Secret Life of Walter Mitty that kept me engaged and from really turning against it, despite checking several boxes that typically turn me off. The overly sentimental, quirky and twee first act begins to grate and as much as I understand product placement helps pay for a lot of today's films that may not have otherwise received funding, sitting down and discussing the joys of eating an 880 calorie cinnamon roll turns me off immediately, even if it is Patton Oswalt delivering the lines.

However, Sean Penn as the nomadic photographer, Mitty's mother played by Shirley MacLaine and the Major Tom moment are enough for me to give this film the ever-so-slightest of passes. There are people in my life that are instantly turned off by Ben Stiller and they are likely to run from this film from the opening minutes, but others I'm sure will eat it up, finding warmth in the saccharine nature of it all. No problem there, you could certainly find less ambitious, sugary movies to embrace.

In my estimation, however, Mitty would have found greater success had it sharpened its teeth a bit and grown a pair. There are allusions to corporate greed and the lack of humanity in today's business process, a lack of humanity that has turned people into corporate drones with no life outside their cubicle, a life where daydreams are the only way they'll ever experience the world. At one moment Mitty stands up to this idea, but it's a scene that offers little to no real catharsis, though I think we're expected to take more from it than is actually up on the screen.

As an audience member you will either go along for the ride or likely believe you're watching the expanded narrative of a long form shoe or sports drink commercial. In a lot of ways it feels the commercial prospects of the film got in the way of the storytelling. I understand movies have to make money or studios aren't going to make them, but any teeth this film may have otherwise had feels as if they have been filed down to dull nubs.


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  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/navaneethks/ navaneethks

    The trailer looked like it had a lot of potential to be a perfect family Christmas movie. I might just wait to rent it given the reviews are mostly calling it a miss.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/JNFilms/ JN Films

      10 good reviews and 14 'meh' reviews on RT so far. 'Mostly' is not the best term, but 'some' is.

      • GobleGableOneOfUs

        some of the "good" reviews have basically been 'meh' as well........take the homer glasses off

  • Dtello

    I'm one of those run-from-Ben-Stiller persons. Add that to a sickly sweet mish-mash of junk directed and starring.... I'd rather watch The Lone Ranger.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/JNFilms/ JN Films

      Predetermined without seeing it, hmm.....

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Torryz/ Torryz

    Didn't think it looked good and this only confirms it to me.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/JNFilms/ JN Films

      one review? That's what does it? Hmm.....

    • Héctor Pérez Tovar

      You should give this movie a chance, is more about a shy human recognizing his true value and potential. This is Stiller's "Truman Show".

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Ian/ Ian

    Word on this has been pretty lukewarm for a while now so I'm not surprised at the neutral rating. It has great trailers but it sounds like it would have worked better as a PG-13 feature with less sweetness and more depth. I tend to like Stiller in his straight man roles so I may end up watching this at some point but it likely won't be in the theatre.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Ryguy815/ Ryguy815

    I'll probably catch this on DVD.

  • http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3769949/ thatpj

    Can't really take a review seriously that undermines the entire concept of the film. Why would Mitty go after corporations if it is a love story?

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Foggy/ Liam Fogarty

      I've seen the film and I think the review is spot on. If you want to take Mitty as a love story then fair enough, but it's a fair dull and drab love story that's really only there to fill the quota. The original short story is actually quite a biting satire on corporations and while that element is in the film, it's been neutralised and schmaltz-ed up to feel nothing more than a slightly quirkier Night at the Museum clone at the end of the day.

      It also doesn't help that the film itself is conglomerised to death with logos for Papa John's pasting the screen in one particular scene.

      • Héctor Pérez Tovar

        So by your standards, Fight Club is nothing but Starbucks propaganda?

        • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Foggy/ Liam Fogarty

          Well considering Fight Club actively satirise Postmodernism, while the scene involving Papa John's in Walter Mitty is a sentimental scene where Stiller reminisces about his father being passed away. I'd say your argument lacks a little bit of sense.

          Also have you seen the film?

  • Josh McLaughlin

    That's too bad; this movie looked like it had a great concept (given that it's a remake, anyway), and it seemed different from the rest of the dumbed-down "popcorn" films that are usually churned out around the holidays and the summertime.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/JNFilms/ JN Films

      It's just one opinion, don't sweat it.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Hudsucker/ Hudsucker

    Well, this is disappointing. I'll probably rent it, though.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/JNFilms/ JN Films

      One review. Don't worry.

      • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Hudsucker/ Hudsucker

        Well, other critics I liked also weren't huge fans of it as well.

        • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/JNFilms/ JN Films

          But there are a lot of critics who loved the movie. It's a love it or hate it movie, depending on the viewer's level of cynicism.

          • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Hudsucker/ Hudsucker

            Yeah, Amy Nicholson, a critic I like, loved it. I think I'll still only rent it tho.

            • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/JNFilms/ JN Films

              Okay, that's good you look to various sources. :)

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/JNFilms/ JN Films

    There's not really a consensus for the movie. Reviews are either 'love it' or 'meh'. I'm going to go see it and find out for myself versus judging it based off of only one person's (I like you Brad) opinion. All of you seem to already dismiss going to see it only after reading one review. Bash on me if you want, but I'm telling the truth. This is a movie that you need to decide for yourself on versus having it predetermined heading into it.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/navaneethks/ navaneethks

      Seems like you really want to like the film. Hope you do like it! I might watch it in theaters, but not opening weekend though. That goes to TWOWS.

      • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/JNFilms/ JN Films

        Sorry if I came off as attacking you, it wasn't my intentions. I'm just frustrated with everyone giving up on the movie with predetermined thoughts based on only 1 review. Walter Mitty actually inspired me to get into making my feature length movie that I'll start production on tomorrow. I really want this to be something I end up liking. And thanks :)

        • GobleGableOneOfUs

          you haven't even seen it yet................yet your comments make it seem like it's the next Truman Show

  • joseph dolan

    I got to see this film in a special screening on an unreleased film a while ago & I really liked it. You come out with a big smile on your face at the end of it. It is life affirming. The one bad thing about the film is indeed the amount of product placement in the film, especially for Papa Johns, which they could have done without. I would really recommend this movie. 9&half out of 10. Would have been 10 out of 10 had it not being for the product placement.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Winchester/ Winchester

    For some reason the trailers and the visuals always appealed to me more than the idea of the film itself (that and I like neither Stiller nor Wiig to any degree) but I think I finally realised what's been lurking at the back of my head.

    The marketing and trailers have been making me think of Cameron Crowe. As if this should be something he's directing.

    I think I might still catch it if I can for the visual elements though.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Newbourne/ Newbourne

    *spoiler alert*
    I am perplexed as to how no one in the company thought it was a bad idea to put a guy who was laid off on the cover of their final issue and claim he was one of the people that built the company. Especially considering they used his likeness without his consent. That must have resulted in a publicity nightmare.

  • fidas

    I am sure everyone will agree when I say this film is a very good film,

    I've watched this film twice in http://goo.gl/7OXzRd

    I even had to download it there. you will regret it if you do not watch this film

  • davinagrace

    this is like one of the best movies ever. it really hit me. like, how one person stands up for himselfs and somehow changes his life forever. it's amazing, his trip, his experience. the beauty of adventure is shown in this movie.