My take on…The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

My take on…The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

I wrote a piece about the many versions of Walter Mitty, and I freely admit that the knowledge of those informs my view of this version. I will do some comparison a bit later, after a spoiler alert :), but I can give you my non-spoilery impressions first.

It’s rare that I find a movie that appears to aim so squarely for middle of the road, and succeeds so well. Everything about it seemed to be simply good…not great, not bad.

The performances? Good. Shirley Maclaine rises a bit above, and Sean Penn was intriguing, but I wouldn’t say anything stood out as an extraordinary work.

The directing? Solid, but not transcendent. Ben Stiller directed it himself, and as he showed with Zoolander and Tropic Thunder, he knows how to direct a movie. Not many actor/directors know how to use themselves as actors…they often don’t understand, I think, what works about them in the movies. They may play it too safe or too daring. Stiller knows what works for him…and for the other actors.

The special effects (yes, there are significant effects), the design, the cinematography, the music…all serve the story.

What I would say at this point is don’t avoid the movie, but I do think you could wait to see it until it is convenient.

SPOILER ALERT (if you haven’t seen it yet and would like the joy of discovery, I would wait to read this until afterwards)

Now, as to the script by Steve Conrad (Wrestling Ernest Hemingway, The Pursuit of Happyness)…

The the original story is brilliant. However, it is difficult to adapt.


The Walter Mitty of the story is simply not likely to have much character development, which people want in a movie. The Original Walter Mitty (OWM) is stuck in an uneventful life, and that may continue…forever. OWM’s fantasies are a way of coping with that.

James Thurber carefully doesn’t tell us that’s a bad thing…and it isn’t particularly a good thing. It’s just a thing. 🙂 What Thurber did, amazingly, is give us an insight into the secret life of some people.

Conrad (as did Ken Englund and Everett Freeman for the Danny Kaye version) seems to see the daydreaming as a symptom. Once the Ben Stiller Walter Mitty starts really getting involved in things in life, he comments that he hasn’t been daydreaming as much. I think truly imaginative people aren’t doing it to replace a lacking reality but to enhance it.

Conrad’s Walter Mitty does have an interesting balance of effects. The daydreaming is often a negative, causing Mitty to miss real world happenings that are important, but do strengthen him at important times.

I thought the best things, and the ones to which the audience seemed to react the most, were the fantasies (in particular, one early on). I’d have to say, though, they aren’t so much about what Walter Mitty is doing during them…they are sometimes just odd (although informative about the character’s motivations). In other words, this Walter Mitty doesn’t always picture himself as the hero, or superior to his “normal” self.

You are likely to see some plot holes, and may be confused as to what is a fantasy and what isn’t (the latter is probably intentional, but they appear to need to reinforce when it isn’t, not for philosophical reasons, but for plot clarity).


Bottom line? I think most people will like this movie, but not love it.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

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