Movies: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Ever since we read "How to Name a Dog" in school, I've enjoyed James Thurber. I'm sure many people have had to read "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" for school, too, only to immediately forget it when given something else to memorize and be quizzed over. So I'll give you the short version—really short, since the story itself is short to begin with: It's all in Walter's head.

That's not a spoiler, by the way. I didn't just ruin the movie or give away the ending. That's the premise, the foundation of the film, and the core of Thurber's original story. In the story Walter is driving his wife somewhere and has a bunch of daydreams as they go along. That wouldn't make much of a movie, so of course they took the character of Walter Mitty and made him daydreamy but put him to work in an office, namely in the photo department at LIFE Magazine.

I could get into the history of LIFE, but it isn't really relevant except to say to pick that magazine is an interesting choice that makes sense in the context of the story. LIFE (the monthly version, which appears to be what they're working on in this film) quit publishing in 2000 and was known for its beautiful photographic covers. And so here Walter (played by Ben Stiller) is responsible for something key to the magazine. He in fact has a good relationship with one of the best photographers, Sean O'Connell (Sean Penn).

Alas, as the film begins, LIFE is being bought out and will be printing its final issue as it moves toward an all-digital format. O'Connell has sent Walter a roll of film and has requested negative #25 be seriously considered for the last LIFE cover image. But negative #25 isn't there.

The first 30 minutes of the movie were a bit of a drag; it wasn't until Walter started having his real-life (real LIFE?) adventures that I got truly interested. The only thing in those first 30 minutes that kept me from turning it off entirely was the beauty of the movie. It is gorgeously shot. And as Walter goes to Greenland, Iceland, Afghanistan in search of O'Connell and the missing negative, the movie only gets better both in plot and visual interest.

Still, as to the plot I do have to say I called every "twist" well ahead of time. And I did have to wonder whether Walter had some kind of mental condition. Because it's one thing to daydream, but it's something else entirely to completely zone out like that. He should maybe be seen by a professional for that.

Kudos to Adam Scott, though, for playing a most convincing asshole. Wow. I really wanted something bad to happen to that guy.

In all, it was a cute movie once we made it past those first 30 minutes. Beautiful to look at, even if the plot wears thin in spots. And though it sometimes gets classed as a comedy, if you're looking for out and out laughs, this one will disappoint. Pick a different Ben Stiller movie for that.

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