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.
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.
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.
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.