The Dreamer, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1879

The Dreamer, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1879

“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is James Thurber’s classic short story of a day-dreamer who escapes his anonymous life by disappearing into a world of fantasies filled with heroism, romance and action. Last year, Ben Stiller took the conceit of Thurber’s story and adapted that into a two plus hour movie, which he directed and starred in. With great anticipation I streamed it last weekend.

Stiller’s version of this story is set in current day NYC. His Mitty works for Life Magazine and is a self-described ‘Negative Assets Manager’. He manages the magazine’s library of photographic negatives, which is a rather anachronistic occupation in this now digital world. His employment situation becomes increasingly more precarious when he first learns that Life will be halting publication of its print magazine and going all-digital. This bad news is made worse by Mitty making one bad impression after another on the obnoxious new corporate transition manager (Adam Scott). Things come to a head when word arrives that Life’s ace photographer (Sean Penn) has submitted Negative #25 for consideration as the cover photo for the last issue. The problem is that this negative is not on the roll and Mitty can’t find it. With the coaxing of a coworker, Cheryl (Kristen Wiig), whom Mitty has a crush on, Mitty summons up the courage to go out and find this photographer and his missing negative.

Stiller’s “Mitty” was purported to have been in production for twenty years and Life ceased regular publications a decade ago. This bit of history may explain some of the stiltedness that imbues the first half of the movie. Some of Walter’s day-dream sequence work well, while others just seemed spaced out. The movie definitely picks up after Mitty departs New York, but this is also where Stiller leaves his source material behind too. Still, the back half of the movie makes for a fine travelogue, with many enjoyable supporting characters introduced. In a voyage of self discovery, our little negative assets manager manages to discover himself and develop some real self-esteem. It makes for a fine story and all, but it is just not “Walter Mitty”, ta-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa …

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