Published Dec 23, 2013Walter Mitty has been a part of pop culture since James Thurber published his brilliant short story in 1939. Mitty is a meek, anonymous office worker who daydreams of being an action hero to escape his humdrum life. In this film adaptation (which took 20 years to reach the big screen), screenwriter Steve Conrad added a love interest (Kristen Wiig) to the narrative while director and star Ben Stiller exploited modern CGI to turn Mitty's fantasies into cinematic reality.
His Mitty is a photo editor assigned to find a missing negative that daredevil photojournalist Sean O'Connell (Sean Penn, in a cameo) intends for the cover of Life magazine's final issue. However, what truly drives Mitty is co-worker Cheryl (Wiig), a sweet single mom whom Mitty dreams of winning, but doesn't have the courage to chat with her at the water cooler.
Overall, Stiller's film is an entertaining adventure, but his character's transformation from a daydreaming mensch into a courageous hero happens too abruptly (without divulging the details here). When it does happen, it takes a while to realize that we're not watching another CGI-inspired detour into one of Mitty's fantasies, but are witnessing a turning point in the story. It feels like someone hit a switch, turning Clark Kent into Superman, instead of Mitty gradually shedding his fears and embracing the possibilities of life, which is the theme of this film.
Others have criticized the CGI effects for smothering the story, but I found that they served to create Mitty's fantasy world. It's the narrative structure that has problems. The second half of Mitty turns into an action flick, leaving behind the humour and warmth of Thurber's creation. However, the story's uplifting message and Stiller's sympathetic portrayal save the film. After all, how can you not cheer for Walter Mitty?
Not a great film, but a solid family movie for the holidays. (Twentieth Century Fox)