Ben Stiller Walter Mitty skate

I love Ben Stiller as a writer-director-actor, but I have a rule about seeing movies with Sean Penn, given his history of wishing critics rectal cancer. When a friend of mine asked me to see ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ I decided to break my own rule, and I’m glad I did. With Mitty, Mr. Stiller has made a film that matters.

“To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life.” — LIFE magazine

Ben Stiller’s Walter Mitty has worked at LIFE magazine for 16 years in its negative assets department. As the publication prepares to shut down he somehow manages to lose the negative to its final cover, a special image sent in by world-renowned photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn). The photo, said to represent the “quintessence of life,” (or was that quintessence of LIFE?) sends perpetual daydreamer Mitty on a journey of self-discovery that will forever end his ability to settle for less.

Ben Stiller Walter Mitty

The trailers for ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ played up his daydreams, but in truth the movie doesn’t really get going until the character decides to take a leap of faith into the unknown in search of “negative 25.” It is at that point his budding relationship with coworker Cheryl (Kristen Wiig) begins to grow and unfold, and the courage and confidence within him finally breaks through to the outside world — particularly in the presence of the suits in charge of reorganizing (i.e., downsizing) LIFE for the digital marketplace.

Walter Mitty Ben Stiller

Anyone who has followed this blog knows that I’m a big advocate of following your heart. For Walter Mitty, his early sadness stemmed from not chasing down his dreams and aspirations. His regret manifested itself in elaborate daydreams. In real life, the “Walter” in all of us makes himself known with bouts of anger, sadness, and depression. Symptoms of “Walter” may include insomnia, irritability, or a short fuse with friends and loved ones. We try to cope with “Walter” with an endless string of vices.

It takes courage to really life life, and it’s harder if an individual didn’t have a support network to help cultivate it growing up. Living life to its fullest requires a willingness to confront all that it has to offer — including failure. Ben Stiller’s direction of ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ isn’t perfect, but the care with which he approached the subject matter more than makes up for a few slightly awkward dream sequences early on in the film.

If you want to see a movie that encourages viewers to ditch the mundane while motivating their inner adventurer to step forward, make some time to watch ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.’

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About the Author Douglas Ernst

I'm a former Army guy who believes success comes through hard work, honesty, optimism, and perseverance. I believe seeing yourself as a victim creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. I believe in God. I'm a USC Trojan with an MA in Political Science from American University.

12 comments

  1. Yeah, I was pretty surprised by what Stiller was able to do here as director. Granted, it wasn’t perfect, but it was a lot better than what I’m used to seeing him do. Good review.

  2. i’ve been wanting to see this ever since i saw it was coming out. my dad was a huge fan of danny kaye, and his role as walter mitty {in the 50s or 60s??} was always one of his favorites. not sure if he would appreciate the remake or not. i have a feeling not, although, my dad was never opposed to a good remake of an old film now and then. i feel like going to see it just for that alone. {i happen to like danny kaye, too… as well as ben stiller.} plus, i have heard it is a good film, even before reading your review. but now, having read your review, i will go see it for sure. have been wondering what a good flick would be to go watch with a friend of mine, so maybe this is what i’ll choose. i’ll see it one way or another… if not now, then on dvd eventually.

    1. Thanks for the read, jorjah-b. The only thing I would say is that some of the early dream sequences are very “Stiller-esque.” There’s a sensibility to the comedy in those couple of scenes that will either make you really laugh or really scratch your head. However, once those are done with I think the movie hits its stride. I’d definitely recommend an early show on say, an early Sunday.

  3. Great review, this movie is on my “don’t forget to get it from the library” list. I tend to have a hard time getting to the movies with a very busy schedule. I now often find movies are on TV before I get to see them.

    1. Thanks! I totally understand where you’re coming from on the time constraints. Money is also an issue for me, although if I go to an early show on a Sunday it only costs $6. I can fork over six bucks for a movie, but $10-12? Unless I really want to see it, then no.

  4. I unfortunately missed this in the UK as it wasn’t out for very long and I had a busy Christmas and early January. I don’t normally like Ben Stiller movies but this one looked good. I will wait for it to be on TV.

    I go to the cinema fairly frequently. We have an “Unlimited” card which is £16 a month for as many films as you can watch.

    1. When I first got the card I saw 13 films a month. at the time the card was £12.50 so I was paying less than £1 a film.

    2. Sean Penn’s presence in the film is a big reason why I haven’t seen it up to this point. The wishing rectal cancer on people really cemented my dislike of him. However, I may have to break the rule to see this movie eventually, as I do like stories that make one feel good. I’m amazed that it didn’t get any Oscar nominations, because everyone I know who’s seen the movie say it’s Oscar worthy.

    3. I have always been decidedly “meh” about Sean Penn. Couldn’t even tell you the last film of his I saw.

      I will say though that if you can’t handle criticism you really shouldn’t be an actor (or a comic book writer)

    4. I agree, Andrew. If you can’t handle criticism, you shouldn’t be an actor, a writer or in the creative business at all for that matter.

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