Saturday, April 19, 2014

"The Secret Life of Walter Mitty": Bizarre But Still(er) Mediocre

Now Available on DVD and Blu-Ray

Sometimes a movie is really hard to comment on.  The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is one of those movies.  It falls into that weird little nook of film-dom where there’s nothing really painfully wrong with it… but it doesn’t really do anything fantastically right either.  As a consequence, I can’t really decide whether I liked it, and maybe that’s its biggest failing.

Walter Mitty, everyday schmuck and perpetual daydreamer, works for Life magazine developing photographs.  As his company makes the transition to closing its doors in order to become an online news source, Walter is placed in charge of developing the final cover photo from a legendary photographer.  However, that photo was missing from the roll, and so Walter breaks out from his mundane life to search for it.  The story is actually pretty cute in how it follows Walter’s transformation from introverted daydreamer to rugged adventurer, and though I found some of the major twists to be a bit predictable, I can’t say that I was disappointed in the script.

However, I think the biggest problem comes from Ben Stiller.  There needs to be a rule in Hollywood, something I’d like to call the Wiseau Principle: if you are directing a film, you shouldn’t cast yourself in the starring role.  It distracts the director from making scenes work the way they are intended to, and self-directed acting rarely works well.  Ben Stiller isn’t a superb actor to begin with, but he can carry a funny scene with some good direction.  He can even manage to competently direct when he's playing to his comedic strengths.  However, much of the humor in this movie comes off as awkward and flat, and while I appreciate that the film was going for more everyday sort of dialogue, it tends to come off as more boring than endearing.

Furthermore, the tone of the film just feels off at times, like when Walter receives random calls from some dude who works at eHarmony so that Walter can brag about his adventure, or particularly when Walter daydreams.  Those daydreams mostly consist of over-the-top CGI action scenes (as well as a bizarre Benjamin Button parody) where Walter is larger than life and impressing the girl from work.  I suspect these scenes were meant to be played for comedic effect, but they mostly seem jarring and out of place.  Thankfully, though, there aren’t too many of them, and the film becomes a bit more grounded as Walter begins to take his real-life adventure.

And really, that’s part of the film’s purpose: to show that taking a real adventure and living a full life is more valuable than the ridiculous escapades we can dream up.  In that respect, I appreciate what the film is trying to show us.  I can even forgive the overuse of hackneyed inspirational montages that document Walter’s journey.  However, the awkwardly executed humor and bizarre tonal shifts also keep this film from being consistently enjoyable.  While it’s certainly not a horrible movie by any measure, I can’t really bring myself to recommend it either.  If you find yourself looking for a cute film to eat up two hours of your time and no other options strike your fancy, I’d say Walter Mitty isn’t the worst film to you could rent.

For those who don’t know, the Wiseau Principle is named after Tommy Wiseau, writer, producer, director, and lead actor in one of the worst films of all time, The Room.  Can you think of any other films that fall victim to the Wiseau Principle?  Let me know in the comments below!

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