The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Ben Stiller is both director and the main star of this new adaptation of James Thurber’s short story The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. The film follows on from Stiller’s recent work of family-friendly comedies that engage with the far-fetched and fantastical. Thurber’s short story was first published in 1939; the character Walter Mitty, a meek man caught up in his boring suburban life aggravated by his wife’s mundane pesterings, represents the ineffectual daydreamer, with the derivative ‘mittyesque’ later finding its way into the English language. The very short short story centres around a weekly routine trip to town with his wife, interchanged with various daydream sequences as Mitty places himself outside of his tedious existence, dreaming up grandiose delusions. It is a comical story yet also with a depressing, psychotic edge.
This adaptation uses the premise of the hapless daydreamer, transporting Mitty to the basement floor of LIFE magazine’s New York offices where Mitty works as a “negative asset manager” (photo editor). The film is strictly a romantic comedy that doesn’t touch on the sombre note of the original short story, and Mitty’s story becomes one of actually fulfilling his dreams and venturing out into the unknown. Mitty’s trial comes when he takes it upon himself to hunt down photographer Sean O’Conner (played by Sean Penn) to find a missing photograph that is to be on the front cover of the last issue of LIFE magazine. No longer does Mitty dream up fantastical situations, but actually lives them.
Alongside all of this is a loose, unfocused parable on the social media age; the lack of real human social interactions and the entrenchment of online dating websites in our lives. Rather than ask the girl from work out, Mitty attempts instead to send her “e-winks”. On top of this is the downsizing of LIFE magazine as it moves to become an online publication, employees are made redundant and the “little man” is ignored. The instant image of the digital age threatens the carefully crafted film photograph that relies a great deal on the people who develop it – Mitty himself, the “little man” on the basement floor.
These themes are never fully developed as the film struggles to coherently express exactly what it intends to. While the film’s style of comedy and level of absurdity make for endearing moments, there is far too much going on, and on the whole the film attempts to say something of significance but ends up feeling shallow.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is released nationwide on 26th December 2013.
Watch the trailer for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty here: