If you have ever day dreamed about saying the right thing or having a snappy comeback to an insult, there’s a little bit of Walter Mitty in you. In the new film Mitty (Stiller) is a 42-year-old behind-the-scenes “Life” employee who spaces out so much his new boss calls him Major Tom.
He’s secretly in love with co-worker Cheryl (Kristen Wiig) but while he dithers with an eHarmony representative (Paton Oswalt) regarding contacting her on-line (even though her office is just down the hall) the magazine is sold. It looks like Walter’s head might be on the corporate chopping block when he loses a negative from legendary photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn). To find the picture he sets his daydreams aside and enacts “Life’s” motto, to see the world. Although Stiller appears in almost every frame of “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” there’s no hint of the “There’s Something About Mary” Ben Stiller here at all. Both are quietly funny for the most part—a “Benjamin Button” daydream is the closest thing to punchline-setup in the movie.

And, because this is a big Christmas release there is an unexpected superhero style action sequence where Walter Mitty tears up Manhattan in defense of his Stretch Armstrong doll, but for the most part it is sweet but occasionally twee. The embossed “That is the Purpose of Life” slogan on an airport runway blurs the line between magic realism and silly sentimentalism but Stiller the director mostly subverts the mundane with the surreal as though he is following Walter’s own ABCs of everything you want in a man (or in this case director), to be Adventurous, Brave and Creative. He’s a hard working but invisible sixteen-year vet of the magazine’s photo department even his official title, negative asset manager, sounds Kafkaesque.
The picture is pegged to be the last “Life” cover ever, and if Walter can’t locate it, he will lose his job. Paralyzed by family responsibilities and the daily work grind, Walter finds solace in his day dreams, where he rescues dogs from burning buildings, pummels his overbearing boss in a cartoonish street fight, and woos the woman of his dreams, accounting staff member Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig).However, when it is announced that Life Magazine will cease publication of physical issues, in a move to the online market, famed Life photojournalist Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn) sends in a final cover image that he claims will capture the  “quintessence” of the iconic magazine.
The character’s moments get bigger and bigger as Walter begins to control his destiny, but Stiller never lets go of the core of what makes Walter, Walter. Yet, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a surprisingly impactful and uplifting film experience on par with some of the year’s best indie offerings – one that is elevated further by the sharp eye of Academy Award-nominated cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh (The Piano).

Kristen Wiig as Cheryl Melhoff in ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’Viewers who are expecting an adaptation of the short story or a remake of the earlier film production will find that this iteration of Walter Mitty is almost entirely new. As a result, some viewers will be surprised to discover that playing a convincing and relatable everyman, rather than an over-the-top cartoon character, is fully within the actor’s repertoire. Stiller’s take on Walter Mitty isn’t going to win him an Academy Award nomination but there’s a subtlety and sincerity in his execution that is right at home with the film’s enjoyable balance of humor, philosophizing, and drama.

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