I went into Walter Mitty with high hopes. I feel I should preface my review with that. The trailer made it seem like an enormously life affirming tale, told through the guise of a man who finally found what it meant to live. Truth be told I think that was Ben Stiller’s aim (as both Director and Star).
The plot sees the titular Walter in the midst of a mid life crisis. He feels he hasn’t done anything with his life (despite having worked for the most successful magazine in the world for 16 years doing a job which it becomes apparent that he is very proud of), longing for the affections of colleague Cheryl (Kristen Wiig) and always distracted by his vivid imagination. He is prone to “zoning out”; a daydream like nervous tick of sorts that sees him creating the perfect life situations as a way to escape the banality of his actual behaviour. He is given the chance to genuinely leap into the kind of life he has only pictured though, as he comes into the possession of a set of negatives taken by a world famous photographer (Sean Penn) with one image missing. How far will he travel and how much danger will he allow himself to be party to in the hunt for this one picture? Importantly, will this help his dwindling love life and show him the true meaning of life?
The major problem I had was Stiller’s apparent need to force comedy into the tale. Maybe he feels that people only accept his movies if they are peppered with obvious humour, but this one didn’t need the amount it had and it actually detracted from the sincerity of the story.
Based of the trailers and other reviews I was expecting some sort of hybrid of Its A Wonderful Life and Forrest Gump. To some extent this is true; it is after all a journey through life with a message about the importance of living. But it lacks the conviction of these other mentioned films. Instead of an organic tale the events feel very much positioned in the structure of the story to try to evoke an emotion or reaction. Mitty’s world hopping adventure becomes more of a series of impeccably visualised moments than a coherent meditation on life.
It does look stunning. That is undoubted. The sprawling Icelandic vistas and rigidly shot New York scenes beautifully depict the nature of the different lives that are lived in each locale, whilst never proclaiming the advantage of one over the other. There are also some truly iconic moments that will be used in film montages for years to come; seeing the freedom in Mitty’s face as he skateboards down the windiest of windy roads is a standout scene, as is the image of Walter finding his courage to jump aboard a helicopter as an imagined Cheryl sings David Bowie in the background.
But as an overall piece I found Walter Mitty a little confused. It felt that at times it was trying to be a whimsical, Wes Anderson style comedy and at others to be a straight played moving drama. I wish it had stuck to the latter. There are real glimmers of the film this could have been. Especially in the subtle yet climactic moment where Sean Penn’s Sean O’Connell talks of the Snow Leopard and how it relates to all things in life. Instead it ends up a film which is certainly a feel good flick, but lacks the substance and truth it needed to make it the something more that was promised in the trailer.