The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Review

Posted: December 30, 2013 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

The Secret Life of Walter MittyWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

It’s a rare thing in this day and age to sit in a theater and see an intriguing trailer for a movie I’ve never actually heard of, and yet it happened to me twice this year. The first time was for The East, a movie I did really like, and the second time for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. It had some interesting visuals, a very effective song choice, and little dialogue. I was really impressed with the trailer, and a lot of my peers were as well. Than the second trailer hit and my enthusiasm lessened. It’s not that the second trailer was bad, but it just seemed a lot more conventional than the previous one. As the film came closer to release date, it got some weak reviews and by the time of its release its entire earlier buzz seemed to have faded. Still, I had hope. The first trailer was enough for me to still believe in the potential of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) is a middle aged man who works as a photo developer for Life magazine. He is a shy and reserved man who has not done much exciting in his life. He harbors a crush on a female co-worker (Kristen Wig) but does not have the confidence to approach her. However he does have quite the imagination and frequently “zones out” into fantasy scenarios in his head. One morning he arrives to work to discover the magazine is going under and the company and is on the verge of publishing Life magazine’s final issue. However, the cover photo is missing, and no one knows for sure where the photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Parker) is. So Walter decides to take a risk by venturing into the unknown and find Sean and hopefully the picture.

At its heart, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is all about Walter’s journey as a character. The central problem is Walter himself isn’t all that interesting a character. It’s Ben Stiller playing the awkward character he’s played many times before and there’s not much to differentiate him from those other roles. In fact there’s little to him outside of being shy and awkward and his journey doesn’t really change him much either. Similar criticism can be laid at the love interest played by Kristen Wig who is given little dimension. Neither actor do a bad job, but they’re characters are very one-note. It’s the same problem I had with The Way Way Back where the characters aren’t cartoony, but they aren’t fleshed out enough to be real. One actor who does feel cartoony though is Adam Scott as the guy in charge of Life’s downsizing. Adam Scott just plays such a broad character who’s such an over the top dick he can’t be taken seriously, which is unfortunate because of the cast he probably has the third most screen time.

The main story here is also very flawed. First off, there are at least three scenes which are all essentially the same thing: Walter finds the courage to go out and seek answers. It works the first time, but every subsequent time is a lot less effective. Walter’s journey also isn’t very profound. He does some cool stuff like jumping into shark infested waters and climbing a mountain, but he doesn’t grow much as a person or have any real experiences with others. Ultimately though, the greatest flaw is that this journey is just really generic. The overall messages are pretty basic ones like to live life to the fullest, appreciate others, take chances, etc. Are these bad messages? Not really, but they’re very simplistic and uninspired.

I have yet to take about the fantastical visuals, which are what drew me to the film in the first place. They’re pretty good. They’re never awe-inspiring or transcendent, but they are creative, are used sparingly, and it’s clear money and effort went into them. I particularly enjoyed an epic fight between Walter and somethingorother over a Stretch Armstrong and a Benjamin Button spoof. The former is fun because it’s essentially a superhero battle between types you don’t see in scenes like that, and the latter because weird as it is, it’s also pretty funny. The visual effects used to create them are also solid. They aren’t perfect, but they work.

Overall, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a disappointment. I can’t help but think how much better the film could have been had the narrative taken a less conventional approach. Instead of a typical story, the film could have been a bit more abstract with less dialogue and exposition. I think this would have worked much better, especially when you consider how simplistic the themes are. As it stands, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is some great visuals, creativity, and imagination wasted on a subpar story.


  1. ianthecool says:

    Its too bad you didn’t like it. I liked it quite a lot. You problem of Walter not being interesting is unfounded I think. He is interesting, he’s just not letting it out. One thing he is is likable, and that definitely plays to the movies advantage.

  2. CMrok93 says:

    Good review Dan. While I will admit that it wasn’t perfect, I still have to say I was slightly impressed with what Stiller did here as a director. Nothing revolutionary of course, but still better than what I expected to see from a guy like him.

  3. yikes. i guess its uniqueness didn’t impress you? now i am worried i may not like it…

  4. brikhaus says:

    Too bad. I had high hopes for this one. Maybe I’ll catch it on Netflix.

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