Saturday, 11 January 2014

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Mitty, witty and pretty

Carpe diem. The famous motto of the Dead Poets Society is resurrected from James Thurber’s short story for another airing on the big screen.

On his fourth occasion in the director’s chair, Ben Stiller has created his most alternative work to date. No genre category describes it better than the simple adjective ‘uplifting’. With a storming soundtrack and astute observational comedy, this love letter to the armchair dreamer is the most likable film of the lately departed year.

Looking cynically into my crystal ball I see a gloomy future facing me. The dreary desk job, an empty apartment, my own personal account book; such is the not-so-secret life of the eponymous hero. To alleviate the drudgery of his isolated existence Walter (Ben Stiller) dreams of fantastical adventures and daring deeds. To woo his office fancy, Cheryl (Kristen Wiig), the timid daydreamer must step out of his fantasies and experience any action the real world has to offer. Such an opportunity presents itself when a misplaced photograph puts his job on the line.

Like flicking through the pages of the latest National Geographic, Walter Mitty jumps between unexplored quarters, seeking the thrills of journeying with the wind and leaping across natural boundaries. Greenland, Iceland and the Himalayas all feature along Walter’s travels but even the shots of New York boast a quintessential exoticism. The city that got Sinatra singing has never looked better.

There is a likeness to John Constable in the way Stiller wields his brush about the landscape. Similar to the British Regency painter, he captures the homeliness in diverse settings with an unnatural simplicity. In one beautiful sequence, the characters break away from a deep conversation to join their Sherpa guides in a game of football on a mountain basin. Whether amidst the snowy tundra of Asian peaks or the muddy turf of your local park, it seems ‘jumpers for goalposts’ acts as a universal language.

At the other end of the camera, Stiller gives a greatly understated performance which perfectly mimics the classic everyman role which Martin Freeman has come to almost monopolise in recent times. Moreover, Kristen Wiig shows her dramatic variety with a relatively subdued turn as a middle aged single mother. How refreshing it is to have two Hollywood leads actually look their age. Although more handsome than most ordinary couples, comforting details like Stiller’s emerging bald patch help the characters retain their believable ordinariness.
Finally, Adam Scott deserves an honorary mention for once again proving that he can master the art of acting the ass.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a timely reminder that films should never be judged on the number of award nominations they gather. It proves that a surfeit of joys can be gathered from a humble story about a man and his travels, whether in the confines of his imagination or outside of it. 



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