Two days in a row I went to the cinema to watch this film, and two days in a row I had to go back home because the queue was so long I couldn’t get a ticket – Christmas time, apparently all the children in the world have to go to the movies as if there was nothing else to do. I felt like this was some sort of sign that I shouldn’t see Walter Mitty, but I turned a deaf ear and went there a third time, more than ten minutes in advance, and managed to get in.
My main prejudice about this movie was the one everybody has when a comedy actor makes a “serious” film. It may not work out – not everything can be The Truman Show – or it might go unnoticed because people expect laughs. Luckily, Ben Stiller pulls it out and makes a cute – that is the word – movie. Also, it helps that he is supported by Shirley MacLaine, Kristen Wiig, Adam Scott and Sean Penn. It helps quite a lot. Anyway, Stiller carries the whole weight on his shoulders. At some point, the movie might seem a bit boring, especially at the beginning, because it takes too long with the exposition of him being a daydreamer. But the interesting part of Walter Mitty is the second half, so that can be slightly forgiven.
The message of Walter Mitty is clear: overcome your fears, don’t be afraid of living your life and so on. At the beginning, it looks like it is going to be a so-so Stiller film. But if Tropic Thunder taught us anything, is that he knows how to be a director, and that is what makes Walter Mitty better than the average Christmas flick.
Note: I believe Tropic Thunder to be a superb movie that some people don’t take under consideration or seriously only because it is a comedy.
The plot of the film is very straightforward: Walter is what we would call a daydreamer, in love with his co-worker Cheryl (Wiig). He is a negative assets manager for Life magazine, which is about to close down and switch to online. The last cover photo is missing, so he decides to go and find the photojournalist who took the picture (Sean Penn) in Greenland and Iceland. Needless to say, he overcomes his fears – as I said – during this physical and emotional journey.
The story of Walter Mitty is more than 70 years old. Written by James Thurber, it was first published in The New Yorker in March 1939. Before this adaptation, there was a film made in 1947, starring Danny Kaye and Virginia Mayo. Thurber didn’t like this version at all, since it was too different from his story and was completely adapted to Kaye’s needs and to show off his skills – he was mostly a “physical comedian”.
With stories that seem different but come together in the end, this is indeed an unusual and moving film. It is quite surprising, though, to see Ben Stiller in a role like this. He seems to tell the audience that, despite the Zoolanders and the Fockers, he wants more and he is ready for new challenges. Just like Walter.
The actual Life motto was “While there’s Life, there’s hope“, and at some point during the 1950s it became “To see Life; see the world“. The one from the movie is nice, though:
“To see things thousands of miles away, things hidden behind walls and within rooms, things dangerous to come to, to draw closer, to see and be amazed and to feel that is the purpose of life.”