I don’t think I realized how much I loved the new film directed by Ben Stiller, the Secret Life of Walter Mitty, until I read the final draft of my review and handed it over to Hollywood.com. It was quite a ride to that final punctuation mark of the piece.
When I first sat through the film, I was first turned off by the contrived, over-the-top fantasy sequences where our titular hero (played by Stiller) escapes when he “zones out.” It felt as though the filmmakers were going for the easy, stupid laughs many of Stiller’s films often seem to lean on. However, something really brilliant was happening here. Stiller means to offer up some of the silliest moments early in the film to transcend them with a rather grand statement on escapism.
And it’s not just escaping into fantasy land Stiller aims to satirize, it’s also escaping through technology or taking short cuts in life or even following dumb fashion trends that subvert a sense of self (look to Adam Scott‘s nefarious bully of a boss for that example). After a cute fantasy sequence where a lonely Walter, stuck in a godforsaken bar in Iceland, conjures up his work crush (a sweet, low key Kristen Wiig) to sing him David Bowie’s 1969 hit “Space Oddity” (which Walter refers to as “Major Tom”), there’s a tonal shift that adapts to Walter’s new outlook on life.
The film seems to have left critics mixed, some cite that tonal shift as a problem (see the Rotten Tomatoes rating here). But it’s actually a strength of the film, which requires that shift to stay true to the growth of the character. You can read my review for a more positive take. Jump through to Hollywood.com for the full review:
Here’s the trailer:
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty runs 114 minutes and is rated PG (I can’t recall anything offensive about it). It opens pretty much everywhere in the U.S. tomorrow, Dec. 25. My Hollywood.com review also appears on Movietickets.com, where you can enter your zip code to find the closest theater hosting screenings. Fox Searchlight hosted a preview screening for the purpose of this review.