I left the theater. Well, after I finished watching “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” of course. “Mitty” is Ben Stiller’s fifth directorial attempt. I had a lot of built up negativity towards “Mitty” because of average reviews, and a director’s roundtable, where Stiller sits alongside more prestigious directors, like David O. Russell, Steve McQueen, and Paul Greengrass. I didn’t even think I liked “Mitty” that much when I left the theater, yet for some reason, I feel drawn to the life of Walter in some intricate and unexplainable way.
The original trailer for “Mitty”, which featured the song “Dirty Paws” by indie-folk rock band Of Monsters and Men, remains—in my opinion—the most successful and interest-grabbing trailer of the year. All we know is there is some guy named Walter, who likes some girl he works with, and leaves for a crazy adventure, presumably to find himself. This is most accurate, and I wish Hollywood could adapt to this method, as most trailers ruin the excitement of a story rather quickly. I digress.
Ben Stiller plays the lead of Walter Mitty. He lives a boring life, drenched in deep blues; a fantastic color choice for the film as it reminds us of just how dull he is. He works, in a not subtle way at all, for Life the magazine. Life magazine is closing, because no one pays to read these days. Walter catches the eye of the charming Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig). He wants to get to know Cheryl, but his conversations end up as awkward and painfully miserable as the majority of mine have been with pretty girls I’m interested in. I connected deeply here with Walter. It’s kind of funny when you realize how bashful guys can be. I don’t want to say much more about our story. It is more enjoyable of an experience to go in knowing as little as possible.
Walter does want adventure. He does seek it out to some extent. “Mitty” does this really cool thing where you are constantly unsure of what is reality. At any moment, Walter slips into a daydream sequence, which brings along with it breathtaking cinematography; thank you Stuart Dryburgh. “Mitty” seems like a surprise film for such stunning camera movements, yet the colors of “Mitty” and the camerawork compliment each other very well. As Walter jumps into a burning building to rescue a three-legged dog, so do we as an audience, remember a few of our own fanciful daydreams. One of mine is a terrorist group blowing a hole into the side of our church building, and within moments, I put on my Iron Man suit and proceed to take them out, saving the many comfortable church goers around me. Ah yes, that is indeed the dream.
I mentioned at the beginning of this review that I didn’t imagine “Mitty” being much of anything. After a few days to process however, I have come to the conclusion that this is a spectacle of a film. It is something I would gladly go to see again. Yes, there are a few moments that show Stiller’s strange and random sense of humor (e.g. the x-ray scene at the airport). Yet, Stiller has done something so very odd and wonderful with “Mitty”.
By listening to the soundtrack, you are reminded of the energy presented by the film. The wonder of exploring the unknown. The excitement of meeting a new person you find cute and interesting (applicable only if you are single of course). “Mitty” is the kind of movie that asks you the rhetorical question “why don’t you get out there and just live?” This query requires no response. Many could take a long look at their lives and think, “I don’t have time for that,” but in all honesty, we all have time to live. After watching “Mitty” I don’t expect you to suddenly grow the desire to jump into the pacific from a helicopter, suspended 60 feet in the air. I don’t think you need to go spelunking, or even try a zip line out for once in your life!
The message of “Mitty” is not go do crazy outdoor adventure stuff (while this may help bring to light the motives of the film), the message is to live your life to the fullest. This looks entirely different from person to person, but it starts with little things. Start by making conscious effort to spend more time with your family. Plan a road trip with friends. Or hey, if you can afford it, and you don’t give a single rip, buy a plane ticket to Greenland, and just go.
Stiller reminds us through this adaptation of James Thurber’s really wonderful short story (http://bnrg.eecs.berkeley.edu/~randy/mitty.html) that there is indeed a huge world out there, ripe and ready for exploration. Just give yourself up, and surrender to the awe of it. Life doesn’t really give you an invitation.
I must end on a thought-provoking quote from Sean Penn’s character, the daredevil, life-living nature photographer, Sean O’Connell. At some point, Walter does finally catch up to Sean, and when he does, Sean leaves both Walter, and the audience speechless with this gem: “Beautiful things don’t ask for attention.”