Ben Stiller is an actor that I truly don't care for. He, like other comedian actors, is cast in the same irritating role over and over again. It's pretty rare when one of these comedies actually garners a chuckle out of me. Stiller has done a few movies that were tolerable, but overall I avoid him. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) was a highly publicized movie that sported some incredible visuals. It was also not an over the top comedy. Will Farrell partially redeemed himself in my book with the drama Stranger than Fiction, so I thought I'd give Stiller a chance to do decent drama as well.
The manager of the negative assets sector of Life magazine, Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) has been working there for sixteen years and has a tedious life, not going anywhere but from his home to his job and back. He is an escapist, daydreaming into a world of fantasy many times a day. Walter has a crush on the recently hired Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig), but is too shy to invite her on a date and is trying to contact her through eHarmony, and online dating website. The magazine is preparing to release the last printed edition before going digital and the loathsome manager of transition, Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott), is preparing an inevitable downsizing over the next few days. Walter has been the liaison between the magazine and the mysterious independent photographer Sean O'Connel (Sean Penn) that has sent to him a package of negatives. Sean also suggests to the senior management the use of the negative 25 for the cover of the last edition. However Walter cannot find the negative. Walter has no means of contacting Sean and finds a clue that he might be in Greenland. Walter takes action in the real world by embarking on a global journey that turns into an adventure more extraordinary than anything he could ever have imagined.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty stars and was directed by Ben Stiller. That's got to be very hard to direct and be the star actor of a movie. The role of actor and director are both demanding and taking on both roles at once should be an indication of a person's talent. Ben Stiller certainly is talented, I just think a lot of his typecast roles are annoying. When Will Farrell starred in a drama, he really let his talents as an actor shine. Similarly, Stiller allowed himself to showcase some above average directing skills as well as depict an interesting character when he's not bogged down by cheap, juvenile humor.
Walter Mitty is painstakingly stylish, but I don't think that's necessarily bad. The camera work and visual effects were phenomenal to say the least. Even when Walter is daydreaming of something fantastic, like jumping into a burning building to save a baby, CGI effects are obviously used. But it's so seamlessly integrated that you aren't always drawn to the fact that it is computer rendered special effects. The camera work was very artistic and visually pleasing, yet there are some shots that look so artistically aesthetic that it distracts you from what is actually going on in the scene. A good shot should keep you focused on the dialogue or action while still impressing the audience visually. The shots I'm referring to here made me feel like Stiller was shouting, "look how much work went into this shot!" so much so that I didn't always catch the important bits of dialogue. The movie looks good, but almost distractingly so.
The weakest point in Walter Mitty is the writing. It desperately attempts to captivate this carpe diem philosophy; it wants to grasp this idea but ends up being esoteric and vague. Try as it might, the script simply doesn’t lend itself to enough boldness to get that point across in a profound way. It weakens the overall impact of the story. This isn’t to say that it isn’t good, it simply isn’t as deep as it would like us to think it is.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a visually fantastic movie. The special effects are beautiful, the camera work is good if a little pretentious. It is an ambitious film, but it fails to back up its grand designs with enough substance to anchor this spectacle and keep it from drifting off into light-hearted whimsy. This is probably my favorite Ben Stiller movie and it was good to see him acting in a counter typecast role. I think this movie is worth seeing because of the great visuals and camera work, just don’t get your hopes up for something life changing. You won’t be missing a great piece of cinema if you opt not to see it.