Ben Stiller is an interesting celebrity. He’s built his career on playing the lovable dork, the guy who you can’t help but like to be around but who can’t help but screw everything up. The general public embraces him, and he has yet to completely tarnish his career by following the career path of Adam Sandler (who was always a more abrasive and easily dislikable comedian to begin with). Stiller has never been offensive in his film choices and yet he’s never been all that adventurous either. He kind of stays in a comfortable wheelhouse and rarely ventures outside of that box.
Looking at his film career from the standpoint of an actor is one thing, but looking at his career as a director can bring a different feeling. He’s now directed five films, and they are all rather notable. ‘Reality Bites’ is a sincere film about those confusing teenage years (and it has some really identifiable social commentary), ‘The Cable Guy’ was a huge moment for Jim Carry and continues to be considered a comedic cult classic. ‘Zoolander’ is one of the funniest movies of the aughts and ‘Tropic Thunder’ (I didn’t even know he directed that) netted an Oscar nomination for one of its stars.
It’s a great list, but then ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ comes along and brings something entirely new and different to the table.
I have not read the source material or seen the original film (from the 40’s) but from what I gather this is a completely revamped adaptation and so it doesn’t need to be compared to previous versions. In Stiller’s ‘Mitty’, our protagonist, Walter, works for the ever-changing ‘Life Magazine’. He is a man dedicated to his work and a man with little real life ambitions. He doesn’t seek out the true adventures in life and instead lives his life from a distance where he fantasizes about having the kind of life that other people actually live. He has fallen for the new girl, but lacks the courage to approach her so he stalks her from an internet dating service that is having technical difficulties. When he has a very important photograph placed in his hands, he finds his world beginning to shift. The image is lost, his job is in jeopardy and his spirit soars with excitement as he chases the photography to the ends of the earth looking for the image.
In the heart of adventure, his life is reborn.
The message in ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ is a simple one, dealt with rather simply and because of that it has a deeper impact. Living your life isn’t truly living if you never really live. Does that make sense? It does when you watch Stiller’s beautifully crafted film. You can feel the energy that is displaced in all the right areas, creating a beautiful presence that pulls the audience along from scene to scene. What I love about this film is that it doesn’t make the film an advocate for literal adventure as much as one for the adventure of life itself. While Mitty has his share of excitement traveling the globe, hiking mountains and swimming with sharks, the real adventure is not being afraid to reach out and grab the things you really want. The real beauty in life is often taken for granted because we are expecting something else, something manufactured, and yet we don’t realize how special the life right in front of us really is.
She are living with eyes wide shut.
Stiller direction is rather impressive. He builds a beautifully languid story and finds ways to heighten our excitement with visuals that arouse interest and a fluidity that never shakes our interest. I was actually blindsided with how effortless the whole film feels. The comedic interludes, the heartfelt themes, the rich development, and subtle yet effective acting; all of it comes together and creates a unified and completely delightful film.
I give this a solid A. It was one of the biggest surprises of my film year. I’m really shocked that Oscar isn’t going to bite here. It is such a crowd pleasing film and I highly expected this to be doing better with the critics and guilds. This is technically outstanding, with a great score and some really sharp visual effects (how did this miss Oscar’s shortlist?). I’d love to say that this will pull out a shocking Oscar nomination, but I see it being completely snubbed, unless it shows up in Score; where it very well could (and should).