Ben Stiller acts and directs in this long languishing remake based on a two and half page short story. It has been made into a film before (1947), but perhaps the freedom allowed from such a condensed source of inspiration doesn’t make this film seem from an older time at all. Except, you know, from the fact that Walter Mitty works at a print magazine and the photographer he idolises uses film. He uses online dating guys! He must be a modern man.
Walter Mitty has been working as a Negative Asset Manager for 16 years for Life Magazine, only Life is about to go online. Yeah – I see what they did there. Life Magazine is about to print its last issue, but before Walter can move on with his life, he needs to confront his past, grow some balls, act on his crush for colleague Cheryl (Kristen Wiig), and stop living only in his mind. Also he lost the negative Sean (Sean Penn), his hero photographer sent to him that is to be the cover image to the final ever Life’s issue, leading to a journey along the movie trope sidewalk traveling the world will solve all your problems’(so long as you don’t have money problems…or visa problems. Two problems traveling can’t solve. And jetlag. Three problems. But apart from that…)
This review is sounding snarkier than I intended to because after watching the trailer and seeing whimsical, folksy music play out like a wannabe Wes Anderson film, I actually really enjoyed it. It had surprisingly likeable and restrained performances from Stiller and Wiig, visual beauty you could press pause and frame, and an unashamed heart at its core not seen since “Forrest Gump”. Do I need to rethink my life? Is Ben Stiller a better director than I gave him credit for? Should I go to Iceland? No, yes, and yes it would seem. I stand by my life. Could always use more travel though.
Walter’s dream sequences allow for a lot of visual creativity, and you know you’ve seen New York’s streets and buildings get destroyed just. one. too. many. times. when this is your least favourite of the imaginative pursuits. The most effective? Kristen Wiig singing “Space Oddity” at a karaoke bar in Greenland to encourage Walter to get on a helicopter about to head into a storm with a drunk pilot. Maybe you had to be there, but it’s uplifting.
A lot has been made of ‘product placement’ within this film, but apart from eHarmony going on record that they didn’t pay to be included the film (but did partner for some ads to promote it), there is a relateability that “Mad Men” has also tapped into by using companies we recognise and I don’t feel it detracted from the film, even if Todd (Patton Oswalt) is a dream employee in customer service. Also, if Papa John’s paid to be represented as the company that helped break Walter Mitty’s spirit after his Dad died, causing him to give up on his dreams and retreat into his mind to get by, they should get their money back.
There are flaws to the film, unsubtlety and clunky dialogue in parts, there is no great revelation besides, you know, make the most of life, and I do wonder how people who have needed glasses their whole lives in order to see suddenly don’t need them, and it’s okay. But this is pure escapist cinema, and while that might not sit so well with critics, the audience I watched it with on a Monday night were all smiling as they exited the film.
There is a reason movie theatres had record crowds during the depression, and as a beautifully shot, funny, introspective, and masterfully edited film, is a great way to end and begin the year. My prediction – a sleeper hit that will be watched long after this year’s Academy Award winner.