James Thurber (1894-1961) a short story writer and cartoonist for the New Yorker magazine created “Walter Mitty” and his secret, fantasy world in 1939; when I read this story, decades later, I realized what a masterpiece of literature it was; a pecan that will resonate as long as it is read. Walter Mitty, minus any assertive characteristics, is a universal metaphor for mankind; his bland, beige, suburban existence was the canvass, an example of the magnitude, power, proof that an extraordinary imagination can blossom and imbue, enrich an ordinary, mundane life; he was an ace pilot, surgeon, assassin; he flew, eviscerated, killed, went home to a predictable dinner with his unsuspecting wife. Fantasies infuse all of our lives; some amazingly become reality, but for most, just dreams that eventually fade, but ego-inflating and so much fun during the process. Its lesson: “never judge a book by its cover” or even more apropos, “looks can be deceiving”.
Ben Stiller directs and stars in “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”; he is the photographic archivist for “Life” magazine and has been informed of its “takeover” and the eventual loss of a myriad of jobs. He is meticulous, shy, smitten with a fellow employee “Cheryl” (quiet, delightful performance by Kristen Wiig); he looks at her and his vanilla personality morphs into a kaleidoscopic illusion of heroism, super- human feats; ultimately a quest for a lost negative catapults him into the “man of his dreams” and Walter is soaring over and in, troubled waters, skateboarding in Iceland (idyllic, other-worldly beauty), escaping an erupting volcano, hiking in the Himalayan terrain. With Walter’s peripatetic wanderings, the film looses its focus and vision.
I have seen very few Ben Stiller films: “There’s Something About Mary”, “Meet the Parents”, “The Royal Tenenbaums” ; as an actor, he did not my pique my curiosity but in “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, his vested interest in this fictional icon, shines and though flawed, has tremendous heart; at times, that is sufficient.
TWO & 1/2 STARS!!