ben stiller

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

It seems that I always end up at Rotten Tomatoes to read other people's reviews whenever I feel like writing one of my own. Yes, it kind of defeats the purpose but for some reason I have an overwhelming desire to validate my own opinion and to gage whether I'm 'right' or 'wrong'. Lest I sound utterly ignorant about the merits or downfalls of a film.

Yes, you're allowed to laugh at me because that's stupid. A cynical review is not always an intelligent one, and an intelligent review is never indicative of a general audience's reception (sometimes for the better, other times not so much).

So. Was The Secret LIfe of Walter Mitty worth paying $15 to go see at a cinema? Yes.

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The film is like a tumblr greeting card of wanderlust and inspirational quotes for nature and creativity. Sometimes it's in danger of falling into a binary distinction - freedom, the outdoors and travel is good while work, the office and the city is bad. It can get a little cheesy and cliche, which is probably where cynical viewers start to gag. But director Ben Stiller is able balance absurdity, comedy, fantasy, a bit of action and enough emotional sincerity to the drama to make it funny, off-centre, warm and entertaining to watch. 

Oh and the soundtrack is pretty cool too.

I've read a few comments saying the film's narrative is not coherent and the protagonist's flights of fancy are too tangental to make any sense. If this film were an animation, I don't think anyone would blink twice at all the absurdity of Walter Mitty's daydreams. Even at its most rambling state, the journey of the protagonist and his goals are quite clear. If you've ever watched Family Guy or the Simpsons or even How I Met Your Mother, it's the same tangental storytelling style. And since when are comedy, fantasy and adventure genres completely coherent?

Another reason for going to see the film is that the visuals are actually stunning. Every shot was filmed with the intention for it to look like a photograph pulled out of LIFE magazine or National Geographic. It's a pretty film. The scenes around the office remind me of a 1967 French arthouse film by Jacques Tati, "PlayTime".

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It's the same world of blues and greys in the office with a repetitive square motif, where everyone is boxed into their surroundings.

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But while Tati was critiquing the cold, unrelenting progress of modernism in the 60s, I have a feeling Stiller is not so much harbouring nostalgia for the pre-internet age by trying to say that old is good and new is bad, but rather saying that times will inevitably change (for better or worse) but we all should learn to embrace life and make the most of it before it slips by us. In the film, the company that Walter Mitty works for is LIFE magazine, a very obvious but clever metaphor.

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The film may have fallen short of being 'Oscar material', but a film doesn't have to be serious or intelligent or politically challenging to be a good film. Besides, not many oscar contenders are audience favourites anyway. And I don't think Stiller was seeking academy approval while making Walter Mitty. But don't quote me on that.