Ben Stiller, Adam Scott, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

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

Ben Stiller, Walter Mitty, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a two-hour movie based on a James Thurber short story that it takes about eight minutes to read aloud.  In adapting children’s books and other pieces where there is so little material to adapt faithfully…has it ever worked?  I’m seriously asking to be reminded of an example.  Mitty is a wonderful story about a man who drifts off into daydreams of adventure while going through a day’s worth of mundane errands.  Danny Kaye made it into a feature in the 1950’s and now Ben Stiller both directs and stars in this modern adaptation.

Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Walter works at Life Magazine where he is in charge of photo negatives (everything about Walter’s current life is dated and dying) and due to corporate decisions (embodied by a surprisingly unfunny Adam Scott), Life Magazine is prepping for its final issue.  The cover will be the greatest shot of legendary photographer Shawn O’Connell’s career….and Walter can’t find the negative.  Shawn is really Walter’s only friend which makes sense because they’ve never met in person.  They’ve only corresponded about each other’s work.  Walter makes sure Shawn’s photos get the proper treatment and Shawn knows his photos need Walter to be seen by the most people possible.  With the deadline looming and with the prompting of the girl of his dreams (Kristen Wiig, also not given much to capitalize on her comedic talents), Walter sets out to try to find Shawn.

Sean Penn, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Shawn is, to put it mildly, eccentric.  He has his mail sent to a bar in Greenland, which is where Walter starts, but soon he’s hopping helicopters, jumping into the ocean to chase fishing boats, climbing (and rapidlly de-climbing) volcanoes and finally trudging through the Himalayas to find Shawn (Sean Penn).  As he begins to have these real life adventures, his zoned out fantasies begin to fade and life becomes the adventure he’d always dreamed it could be.

Ben Stiller, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty


It sounds like it should work, right?  It doesn’t and I’m really sad to say that because I was so looking forward to seeing this after one of last year’s best trailers.  This script is just not there.  It’s not funny enough (with the comedic talent it has there’s no excuse for that), the daydreams are more of an annoying distraction than anything else.  I actually liked the second half of the movie (Walter’s journey to find Shawn) much more than the daydreamy first half.  The less daydreaming, the more I liked the film.  The first hour though was quite honestly dull.  I did really love some moments.  First of all, most of the funny in the movie is provided by Patton Oswalt, Walter’s e-Harmony adviser, who eventually ends up bailing him out of jail.  Anything is improved by the presence of Patton Oswalt.  The scene that Ben Stiller and Sean Penn share is really touching.  I also honestly did not see the cover coming and it really made me smile.

It’s not an irredeemable mess.  It’s just not well-paced and it doesn’t have a script worthy of the source material or talent.  It’s a good rental, but because of the problems with the first hour I have to duck it just under a positive rating.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Ben Stiller

6 thoughts on “Movie Review: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)”

    1. Thanks man. Well I can tell you. This year he has Night at the Museum 3. In 2015 he’s voicing in the Madagascar spin-off The Penguins of Madagascar. He’s also starring in a film called While We’re Young with Naomi Watts where he’s playing a documentary filmmaker. I’m not that plugged into Ben’s life, I just research well lol.


  1. After one of the best trailers of all time, this movie was just OK. I thought it was tonally inconsistent. I love Stiller as both a director and and actor… Cable Guy is my favorite Jim Carrey movie and I’m a huge fan of Mystery Men (“When you doubt your power, you give power to your doubt”), but this movie felt compromised somehow, like Stiller couldn’t bring himself to just make a fantasy. Instead, the film tried to be too hip, with vulgar humor that was totally out of place. I actually liked this film, I was just expecting so much more.


    1. You and I are the only two people in the world who like Mystery Men. Yeah that trailer to me will still live on as a great short film. Sometimes trailers for movies that fall flat are so good you can keep them as the experience. I still love the trailer for Prometheus and I know you liked Where the Wild Things Are but I couldn’t stand it, but that trailer is one of my favorite of all-time. Like I said in the review, this film actually got better when they dropped the fantasy element, but that’s kind of a pity given the point of the film. There are a few great scenes like I said and I love Stiller and Penn’s scene on the mountain so much.


      1. Some ambiguity in the second half of the movie would have helped. The moment Walter touched that sailor’s face to make sure he was real, I felt most of the magic drain from the film. I wish I hadn’t been so convinced that Walter’s real-life adventures were really real.
        This film felt compromised. It felt safe. It was not the big, transformative Ben Stiller film that we were promised. Still, it had a lot going for it. It had warmth and emotion without being sentimental, which is always a big plus for me. Stiller says that he is going to stop acting so much in order to focus on directing, and despite my disappointment over this movie, I hope he doesn’t change his mind.


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