Is It Cool?: Excellence in Filmmaking
For those who may not know, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is based on a short story of the same name by author James Thurber. The film, like the short story, centers on the painfully ordinary Walter Mitty, who plods along in his daily life but lives fantastically in his mind. As an adaptation, it must be noted that Stiller’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is pretty much a home run.
Walter Mitty is played by Ben Stiller, who also directed and produced the film. When we meet him, he is pining after the kind and beautiful Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig) with whom he works at Life Magazine. After a helpful EHarmony representative helps Walter to realize that his profile has nothing interesting to offer, he begins to make braver choices that result in a pretty great figurative and literal hero’s quest.
Walter’s job at Life is to develop and prepare film negatives into magazine ready art. He arrives to work on his birthday to the bad news that his company is going “dot com” and the downsizing will begin soon. After making a pitiful first impression on the wholly unlikeable middle management guy who is in charge of firing people (Adam Scott) Walter retreats to his office only to discover that world famous photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn) has sent him a roll of negatives to develop. O’Connell encloses a special gift and note to Walter thanking him for years of work in making his photographs into the great works they became. He also mentions in the note that frame 25 is his best work ever and captures the very essence of Life. O’Connell also telegraphs the management at Life and basically demands that frame 25 be used as the cover shot of the final printed magazine before the company goes digital.
The problem is, Walter can’t find frame 25. This leads quiet, unassuming, reliable Walter to take a once in a lifetime journey in order to find the mysterious Sean O’Connell and discover the secret of the missing frame.
There are some wonderfully touching moments and the film is shot in some extraordinary locations. Overall, what seemed most enjoyable about the film was that it was somehow… quietly gorgeous. The acting was sweet, understated and genuine. The story was solid and Walter is on the modern day embodiment of what a true hero’s quest would look like.
What’s it Saying?: Message of the Movie
There is a beautiful contrast between Walter, the steady and reliable nine-to-fiver, and Sean, the globetrotting adventurer. They share a moment on top of a mountain that is achingly lovely. The message comes through loud and clear that the most beautiful people are the ones who don’t demand to be the center of attention. What screams out to me here is that this is a very Mary and Martha kind of tale. Where Sean, the famous photographer, is the well-known and center staged Mary, Walter is the dedicated Martha, who selflessly and quietly works in the background. Through their 16 year association and working relationship, both men have come to deeply respect one another and in the end, are able to honor that about the other which they find admirable. Walter steps out of his comfort zone to take an amazing journey to meet Sean on the mountain, and Sean honors Walter in one of the most beautifully perfect ways that I have ever seen friendship and hard work rewarded.
It should also be noted that the relationship that Walter has with his mother and sister is a wonderful representation of familial love. Walter’s mother (Shirley MacLaine) proves to be the key to the success of his quest, and his obvious affection and respect for her shines through. Ours is often a culture where elderly members are cast aside and overlooked, but Walter’s mother is as kind and stalwart as her son and helps him to succeed on his hero’s quest. The other major message here is one does not have to be a gun slinging, chopper riding, ungentlemanly character to be the star and get the girl. One could be an honestly good guy with a high sense of responsibility and a decent moral compass who stands up for things that are right and good and still win the day. This was a hugely refreshing message in today’s Grand Theft Auto kind of world.
The Good, The Bad, The Ugly: Morality in the Movie
With the exception of one slightly off-color joke and some very minimal cursing, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a squeaky-clean and classy movie.
The portrayal of Walter’s affection of Cheryl is wholesome and sweet and there is very little violence (and what there is shown is staged as part of Walter’s daydreams).
That's Right. I Said It: Reviewer Comments
I think I cried about three different times during the movie because it was unexpectedly beautiful and inspiring.
The Benjamin Button moment was awkward, but hilarious.
This movie is highly enjoyable for anyone 12 and older. Younger kids would likely enjoy the skateboarding scenes and some of the sweeping scenery, but would likely be bored by the “grown up talking stuff.”
Almost the entire time I was watching, I kept thinking “Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati would LOVE this movie!” If you don’t know about The Frassati Society, check it out: www.frassatiusa.org