Saturday, May 31, 2014

Review 270: "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)"

Stop dreaming. Start living.

Short Story

      The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a 2013 adaptation of James Thurber's classic short story, which was previous adapted back in 1947. This version is directed by Ben Stiller (Tropic Thunder) and is written by Steve Conrad (The Pursuit of Happyness). The film follows shy Life magazine worker Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller), who has a major problem with daydreaming. After that basic connection with the short story is over with, the film gets to what it really wants to be. A lazy excuse for a vacation. Woo-hoo! Walter learns from his new boss (Adam Scott) that the magazine is shutting down and an image Walter receive from his famed photographer friend Sean (Sean Penn) is to be the cover. The problem is the image is missing and so, with the help of his crush Cheryl (Kristen Wiig) and, I shit you not, an eHarmony worker (Patton Oswalt), Walter travels to Greenland in search of Sean and finally experiences what he daydreams about. Hooray...

Mr. Freeze: Year (Below) Zero
Laugh a Two Hours

      One of the problems with having written 270 reviews over the course of three years is that it's hard to remember exactly what's I've said in all of them. Namely, with the way tastes and ideals change, it's not hard to find myself making contradictions with past me. I try to avoid it, mostly because I'm afraid that doing so will make an internet troll's radar go off and cause them to hate me like my opinion actually mattered. So when I say that Walter Mitty sucks because it's not faithful enough to the source material, I have to point out I'm not contradicting myself because earlier I said I didn't mind when movies change things from books. See, the key thing there is that the changes actually serve a purpose. Polar Express has to make the book's story longer or else we'd be watching trailers for longer than the movie, making your one friend who always complains out that right and we can't have that. Likewise, Percy Jackson works because, while changes were made, it kept the same tone as the original beloved story that ripped off that other original beloved story.
      Walter Mitty changes the story and I'm still not quite sure why. The original was much more of a comedy, with the daydreams being the focus. Here, not only is the film completely all over the make tone-wise, but the daydreams feel like an afterthought. It's a movie that's trying to have it's cake and eat it too. And also the Academy Awards cake. The film tries to be both a board comedy, quirky indie film, beautiful documentary and inspiration award film. I mean, at one point the film utterly grinds to a halt for an extended parody of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and no that's not some horrible attempt to make a funny joke. At least, not on my part anyway. It really doesn't feel like Stiller cared at all. The most obvious reason why the film changes the story is so Stiller can have more of an excuse that Adam Sandler for why his film is nothing more than an excuse for a vacation. While Sandler might freely admit he's a lazy jerk only in it for the vacays, Stiller at least wants to pretend he's doing it for the story.

Vacation All They Ever Wanted

      I mean, it doesn't even make sense in the context of the story. What I got from it was that Walter used the missing photo as a chance to final live out some of his dreams. And yet, one must question why, if he has enough money to afford multiple airplane tickets to exotic locations and back he didn't do something like this before. I mean sure he's shy, but he gets over that fact pretty damn quickly doesn't he. He literally up and leaves at the drop of a hat and even more annoying, when he does finally get to Exotic Locale #1 he never seems that impress. He gets there and just goes right into the next leg of the ill-advised National Treasure/Amazing Race crossover the film is going for. Almost like at that point the film completely gives up on trying to connect this to the original story.
     The film's tone's a mess as well. It's like the film is trying to cooking in the oven, on the stove top, one the grill and in the microwave all at the same time and can't figure out where the burning smell is coming from. Just when it seems to settle in inspirational drama, the film suddenly goes running back to some lame comedic bit straight out of a sitcom's travel episode. Then after that it's back to filming more shots of the mountain ranges like some documentary made with Instagram filters. And granted, Stiller at least did a good job with the direction,. The film does look great and often times I was more than happy complacently staring at a pretty, pretty shot of a field. But then I'd realize the film hasn't had a daydream in 30 minutes and remember why I wasn't enjoying myself.

Makes Me Feel Asleep

      But really, the biggest problem with the film is that it's just plain boring. Because Walter is a mess of contradictions and he simply becomes an assertive guy when he needs to and not through any development whatsoever, I never really cared what was going on. Hell, the film fails so hard on the subtlety meter that I had already figured out where the photo was and what was on it before he had it for more than 5 seconds and yes, you've probably taken a guess right now and it really is that obvious. Outside of that, the film struggles with making the daydreams relevant. In the original story they were the story so it worked on that front but here they don't move the story along or help us learn anything that isn't already completely obvious so the end up being complete grind halts in the story, made on for a basic connection with the original and to pad out the running time. 
      Another great way to pad out the running time? Embarrassingly obnoxious product placement! I wasn't kidding earlier. Oswalt is literally he as an eHarmony worker, who makes sure to talk about eHarmony any chance he gets and the film wins even more by making me write the word eHarmony 5 bajillion times. Papa John's also figures heavily. And there's not cleverness to it. If there was any joke as easy as the one when Mitty finds a Papa Johns in the middle of Buttfuck nowhere Iceland than I can't think of it and yet the film uses the scene as an emotional about Mitty's father. Oh, and a joke about the cups. Wonderful.

Someone please them him how cool he is so we can stop.
The Verdict

      The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a film that can never justify it's existence more than Ben Stiller wanted a free vacation with help from Papa Johns and eHarmony. As while he does do an honestly good job directing, the film fails to find anything legitimately interesting outside of the beautiful scenery around it. Mitty is a character who traits were only told about, the daydreams are completely pointless, the humor falls flat with several bizarre jokes that make no sense even in the context of the story and the tone is a jumbled mess of ones from better movies. Mitty's life isn't secret anymore, which sucks because he sucks. (Beat). That didn't flow like I thought it would. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) gets 2 and a half stars out of 6.

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