THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY. Beautiful and charming but…

The titular character Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) is a hero crafted according to an age-old recipe as old as cinema itself…

Grzegorz Fortuna

3 April 2024

THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY. Beautiful and charming but...

… – slightly awkward, daydreaming, and shy, but ultimately likable and endowed with a big heart; lacking in courage (until a certain point) to change his dull life, but filled with imagination and a head full of charming dreams. Ben Stiller has been playing similar characters for as long as one can remember, and he has considerable experience in this field, so he convincingly portrays Walter. However, the screenplay directing his actions is less convincing.

Walter of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty works as a photo specialist at the American magazine Life. His life consists of sitting at home, sitting at work, occasional family gatherings, and… wild daydreams that intrude into the film’s narrative at unexpected moments. Like any dreamer, Walter places characters from his surroundings in these dreams – his workplace crush (Kristen Wiig) and his mean boss (Adam Scott). The plot kicks off when it turns out that Mitty must find a roll of film sent by the famous explorer and photographer, Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn), which should make it to the cover of the magazine’s last issue. Since the roll of film is missing from Sean’s package, Walter decides to track him down. This proves to be difficult, as the photographer is constantly on the move, and all signs indicate that he is currently in Greenland.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Ben Stiller

When Mitty arrives in Greenland, he goes straight to the car rental. Given the choice between two cars – red and blue – he opts for the red one without hesitation. This is an obvious reference to Morpheus and his pills (and a signal to the audience that the character wants to change his life), albeit somewhat mismatched with The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. In The Matrix, choosing the red pill meant facing harsh reality, and while it seems to be the case for Stiller’s film too, it doesn’t quite play out that way. Mitty’s further adventures – supposedly happening in reality – do not signify any confrontation; they are simply an extension of his dreams, as unrealistic as his earlier fantasies. Walter jumps from a helicopter into icy water, hits a shark with his briefcase, climbs Himalayan peaks, and escapes from a volcano eruption. All these feats come to him with such ease as if he had been an experienced explorer all his life, not an office worker.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Ben Stiller

It’s easy to guess what thought the creators wanted to instill in the minds of the audience – the world is within reach, and all you need to do to conquer it is to desire it. And while it’s a wonderful theory, it’s hopelessly naive and, at the same time, detrimental to the film itself. Mitty’s achievements don’t make a great impression when the hero hardly has to exert himself, and during some scenes (the aforementioned shark scene), disbelief hangs heavily in the theater. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is essentially one big fantasy – perhaps beautiful in its message, but excessively saccharine and not very engaging. If Walter had to truly overcome his limitations and fight his fears (even in a purely comedic form), the film would be more compelling, as it would make us more interested in the character’s fate.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Ben Stiller Kristen Wiig

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is not a bad film at all. Stiller is charming in the lead role, aided by the lovely Kristen Wiig and the excellent Sean Penn. The landscapes of Greenland and Iceland look beautiful, and almost all the time, we hear a very well-fitted soundtrack in the background. However, I expected more from Stiller. His previous directorial attempts – including Zoolander and Tropic Thunder – were wild, original, and energetic, surprising at every turn; Stiller didn’t restrain himself in playing with cinematic material. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, on the other hand, is mild and polite, following plot templates meticulously and never trying to surprise the viewer at any stage.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Ben Stiller Sean Penn

In a way, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty contradicts its own premises. It’s a film about life’s adventures that would be best watched under a warm blanket with a cup of hot cocoa in hand. And although theoretically Stiller tells the viewer to open doors, conquer the world, and not worry about anything, his film never really tries to encourage us to put down the cocoa and emerge from under that blanket. Unlike its first trailer – mysterious, almost entirely devoid of words, illustrated by the atmospheric tune of the band Of Monsters And MenThe Secret Life of Walter Mitty seems a bit too bland, predictable, and excessively tame.