Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #189
Number of Views: Multiple
Release Date: 25 December 2013 (USA)
Sub-Genre: Cult Film
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $186,337,002
Running Time: 114 minutes
Director: Ben Stiller
Producer: Stuart Cornfeld, Ben Stiller, Samuel Goldwyn Jr., John Goldwyn
Screenplay: Steve Conrad
Based on a short story by: James Thurber
Cinematography: Stuart Dryburgh
Score: Theodore Shapiro
Editing: Greg Hayden
Special Effects: Mark Hawker
Studios: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, TSG Entertainment, Samuel Goldwyn Films, Red Hour Films, New Line Cinema
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Stars: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Shirley MacLaine, Adam Scott, Kathryn Hahn, Sean Penn, Patton Oswalt, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, Jon Daly, Terence Bernie Hines, Adrian Martinez, Kai Lennox, Conan O’Brien, Andy Richter, Joey Slotnick
Suggested Audio Candy
José González “Step Out”
I’ve always been a dreamer. Reality never seemed to offer the same kind of rewards and, from a young age, I was hypnotized by the notion of acting out the fantasies which my mind conjured up and spent most of elementary school living out these wild fantasies. To some it may have appeared mere pratfall but to me it was anything but. Having an over-active imagination is too often considered as an Achilles heel when, in truth, it is the greatest gift we can ever be bestowed in life. Coming of age often coincides with us adopting a more “realistic” approach and thus the inner dreamer inside us perishes. Not Keeper, no way, no way, no way on Earth.
Occasionally a film comes along which knocks you sideways. For me, that film is The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. I watched it on my return flight from LA and found myself profoundly moved, so much so in fact, that I commenced to watch it four times back-to-back on my journey. This shit doesn’t happen often, ordinarily repeat viewing is a past-time I simply do not have the time for. But there is nothing ordinary about this marvelously uplifting film.
Ben Stiller directs and stars in this adaptation of James Thurber’s short story and, love him or hate him, he gets it absolutely spot on. It tells the tale of dreamer Walter, a rather unspectacular guy by all accounts but one who sees the world through his own exclusive spectacles. He breaks from normality at every opportunity to imagine himself in all manner of outlandish scenarios, all of which give him the opportunity to be the man he really is inside. Meanwhile, on the outside, there is nothing remarkable about him. He lacks confidence, bumbles with regularity and is regarded by his peers to be a spineless non-entity.
Walter works for Life magazine as a negative asset manager and has been employed in that role for the last sixteen years. Our story begins with the acquisition of the company by a ‘transitional’ group led by a bearded Nazi Ted Hendricks (the supremely sarcastic Adam Scott) looking to prepare the publication for its move online and trim the staff numbers of anyone deemed unnecessary. Walter is one such slab of driftwood as is the unaware object of his affections Cheryl Melhoff (Kristin Wiig). He misplaces a critical negative which they are looking to use as the cover image for their final publication and sets off on a pilgrimage to relocate it before the ax falls. His journey takes him all over the globe and pairs him with some rather unique characters, each leading him closer to obtaining the elusive print and teaching him about himself in the process.
There are plenty of haters of Ben Stiller out there and it is rather unfortunate as he has so much to offer outside of Derek Zoolander. This is potentially his best performance to date and, moreover, he shows his expertise as a film-maker, crafting a piece of fiction which cannot fail to find its way into your heart and linger there long after the credits roll. Walter begins the movie fairly detached from reality but, as the film draws on, his outlandish globetrotting experiences become authentic and the real world offers more than enough evidence of craziness and numerous opportunities for Mitty to lose himself in wanderlust. He gets in all manner of scrapes along the way to locating the missing print and his transformative travels lead him to the farthest stretches as his voyage of discovery reaches fever pitch.
There is a marvelously understated cameo by Sean Penn as the visionary photographer Walter tracks down in an attempt at finding the missing print and this gives him plenty to ponder as he makes his way back to American soil and back to his humdrum existence a changed man. Notably, his over-active imagination has not been necessary in painting a picture in his mind’s eye and instead he has real bona fide adventures to speak of. When he returns, nothing is any different and the world has continued to turn in his absence but something inside of him has altered perpetually. Funnyman Stiller exhibits a whole different side to his on-screen persona and, as Mitty, gives one of his most honest and measured turns to date.
Some will watch The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and consider it claptrap. However, for those who are open to its inescapable charms, it will resonate strongly. It is a poignant tale of self-discovery, finding your inner center and reclaiming what it is which made you unique in the first place. Often life stifles your creativity, sucks the hope from your marrow and leaves you battered and scarred in the process. What a film such as this teaches you is that in every one of us is a globetrotter, an adventurer, a dreamer so long as we continue to expect the unexpected and remain open to life throwing us a curve-ball from time to time.
At the heart of The Secret Life of Water Mitty lays a beautifully understated love story. Kristin Wiig is exquisitely cast as the quirky ying to Walter’s yang Cheryl and this plays out with great subtlety without ever threatening to dwarf his own personal triumphs. Stiller and his co-star share an unspoken chemistry and, as their interactions become less awkward, their mutual admiration transmogrifies into something far more heart-rending and ultimately life-affirming. Wiig has impressed me on numerous occasions beforehand. Bridesmaids, Whip It, Adventureland and Knocked Up have all demonstrated her ability and her turn here really does seal the deal.
I implore y’all to do the legwork and give this film a run-out. Every once in a while a motion picture comes along which reminds us why we’re here, Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind is one such movie and Ben Stiller has quite brilliantly fashioned another with The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. The emotional pay-off is more than worth making the pilgrimage and the effect is has on its addressee is immense, so long as you ‘get’ the concept and enter with hope as opposed to cynicism. Keeper may not watch many other films in 2014 which leave such a sweet aftertaste and I highly recommend taking 114 minutes from your hectic schedules and taking his hand.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 9/10
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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