NYFF 2013: “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” – Review By Christian Becker

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Back in May, I was privileged to have attended a very special early screening of “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” which just had its world premiere at the New York Film Festival.  Having seen none of the trailers prior to have seeing the movie, I had no idea what to expect from Ben Stiller’s latest directorial effort.  Would it be a silly slapstick comedy like “Tropic Thunder?” Or would it be a serious comedy with human elements and thought provoking ideas? What I ended up getting, was a little bit of both. Movies like “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” are reason I didn’t give “Gravity” a perfect rating, because it is able to marry inspirational storytelling with impressive visuals that take your breath away.

Walter is such an interesting, yet depressing character at first. He lives in his small apartment alone and works in the basement of Life magazine as a photo developer. So much human interaction or adventure goes on in his life. But, we do know that he wasn’t always this mundane. Walter used to have a heart for adventure and had a bit of a dangerous side to him. His father even gave him a journal when he was younger to write down all the places he had traveled to, but we see as an adult, it has remained empty. He loves this woman at work (Kristen Wiig), but fears talking to her head on (like most guys would be). Instead he goes into his little fantasy world where he is king and can dream of the life he wants for himself. In a lot of ways I, and I think a lot of people here, can relate to Walter Mitty. He has these aspirations and dreams that he wants to reach out for, but fear gets in his way and he is only left to daydream about the life that could have been.

After a photo from a famous photographer goes missing, Walter takes it upon himself to go after the mysterious photographer, who is has only had contact with over mail. This journey takes Walter to many places around the world and we get to see Walter live the life he’s always wanted to live. Yes, he is scared for a lot of the trip. There’s a point where he must get into a helicopter with a drunken man in order to make it to his next destination. A fantasy vision of Kristen Wiig singing “Space Oddity” by David Bowie inspires him to take a chance and leap into the next step of his journey, despite the dangers.

As I said, the humor mixes with the drama flawlessly. I can’t remember the last time I saw a comedy this funny that also inspired me to go out and live me life to the fullest. There was a scene in this movie that is a reference to another film (not going to tell you what it is), but I was crying with laughter. The cast makes everything so fresh and lively. I don’t care what the reviews say, Stiller breaths life into Walter Mitty and makes him relatable and lovable. He reacts to things and events in ways that many of us would. Wiig, while not doing anything spectacular with with her performance, plays a great love interest character. She isn’t the annoying, quirky chick that we are used to seeing her play on SNL and Bridesmaids, she’s an actual real person, and not a cartoon. Adam Scott is used to full effect as well. He reminded me a lot of his character in Step Brothers and one of the most entertaining and visually impressive scenes involved him.

As an awards contender, I can see it becoming one, but regardless if it does or doesn’t, it still holds a spot in my heart as a lovely personal experience.  I’ve always been skeptical of it’s Best Picture chances. It’s the type of film where if the Academy wanted a serious feel good comedy to balance out all the heavy dramas, than this SHOULD be it.  For its directing chances, Stiller should get in for creating this amazing visual world and stepping up into serious territory and not just creating silly films. My friends who I saw it with didn’t even believe me when I told them that Stiller had directed it.  The performances, while great, are not of Oscar caliber. I could see Stiller and Wiig getting in for the Golden Globes though.  I personally think it has a big shot at getting a screenplay nomination actually.

The script does a wonderful job mixing the funny and serious subjects. Theres always one wild card comedy that makes it’s into the screenplay mix, and I think this could be it.  In terms of the look of the movie, a makeup nomination is pretty much locked in my eyes, especially in that film reference scene I was talking about.  Thanks to “Gravity,” it won’t win any of the tech awards, but it will still get nominated for this, and rightfully so.  As for the cinematography, there’s only one word that comes to mind: BEAUTIFUL. The shots of these different countries are serious stunning. If this doesn’t get nominated for that, I’ll be deeply hurt.

Overall, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is a special film; One to really make you feel good and remind you of how wonderful life is and how much we should life it out to the fullest every single day.  I had a smile on my face the entire time and I can’t wait to see it again when it’s out.  I actually feel sorry for the cold hearted critics who didn’t have a good time watching this. Maybe one day they’ll have a Walter Mitty epiphany of their own come to love this masterpiece that Stiller has created.

 

Grade: A

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