The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)

Posted: March 18, 2014 in Joe Giambrone
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

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Ben Stiller is a funny guy.  He’s got not one but two firmly set on my top comedies of all time list.  But this film falls into a place that isn’t quite funny enough, nor is it serious enough to work as a drama.  It’s got the neither fish nor fowl problem, and so we have a long dramedy.

It’s long in the sense that stretches of it drag slowly.  As a dramedy it never comes close to a film like GO, which set the bar for this type of story.  Also, Mitty comes from a bygone era, and this adaptation has to contend with a lot of content in the meanwhile.  Notably Jim Carrey’s Yes Man already carried the ball and with a lot more self-actualization.  Mitty is too passive, where things conspire to force him to act.  This passivity leaves a sense of waiting, and waiting.

The original Mitty story is very short and up on The New Yorker website right now.  I read it to get a sense of the divergence.  Stiller’s version does veer significantly in its meaning, style, tone and plot.  In the original, Mitty truly doesn’t do anything exceptional at all.  All the extraordinary aspects are psychological responses to a boring, stifling middle American existence.  Everything is an escape, rather like in Brazil, fantasizing to push away the horrors of the character’s real life.  Mitty has no horrors, but is simply responding to middle class pointlessness, bourgeois uselessness.  His entire life in the story revolves around buying dog biscuits to please his wife.

Mitty’s fantasy life, however, veers toward this sort of thing:

“There was a rending of wood and splinters flew through the room. “A bit of a near thing,” said Captain Mitty carelessly. “The box barrage is closing in,” said the sergeant. “We only live once, Sergeant,” said Mitty, with his faint, fleeting smile. “Or do we?” He poured another brandy and tossed it off. “I never see a man could hold his brandy like you, sir,” said the sergeant. “Begging your pardon, sir.” Captain Mitty stood up and strapped on his huge Webley-Vickers automatic. “It’s forty kilometres through hell, sir,” said the sergeant. Mitty finished one last brandy. “After all,” he said softly, “what isn’t?””

So, Stiller is caught between a rock and a hard place making this transition to film.  The real Mitty doesn’t do anything: that’s the point.  In the movies, we can’t have static characters who don’t do anything.  It’s too boring.  Having Mitty flip completely changes the meaning, but Stiller also has to keep it recognizable to the original.  So it’s a torturous problem that seemingly can’t be solved.

Stiller tried to weave aspects of Mitty’s real life and job into the fantasies, fighting with his boss for example like Transformer robots.  I found these sequences wrong, just gratuitously inserted by screenwriters / producers for their “cool factor,” rather than coming organically from the story.  And I could almost overlook these sins, if not for the commercial product placement serial eye rapes. As noted by others, Mitty 2013 is the worst commercial whoring of a film since The Internship (the Google fucks you up the ass movie).

“The film boast[s] the biggest budget of any of his directorial efforts…”

Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Stiller made his deal with the devil, and he should be called out for it.  When you stop the story, oh, five or six times to get in the sponsors’ names, you’ve become a de facto commercial.  You’ve insulted your viewers and broken the 4th wall.  You’ve essentially said time out, I know you’ve invested some of yourselves into these characters, but these characters are going to sell you some shit now, so please be accommodating and don’t walk out.

It’s like your best friend comes over to your home one day and says, “Dude, I love you man, but you gotta listen to me about Amway.  You could be in my downline.”

I mentioned Go above and for a reason.  There’s a brilliant turn of events in that film where a depraved police detective has two Hollywood boy toys at his mercy.  The cop has a drug bust hovering over the actors, and he’s controlling them as his pawns.  In addition to bringing the two boys over for dinner, as he prances about naked in front of them, the cop finally broaches the other ulterior motive.  Confederated Products!  It’s hilarious satire and says pretty much the diametrically opposite message to what Stiller has done with Mitty.

Perhaps Stiller’s film doesn’t work so well because the people behind it have simply sold out and they’re no longer shy about shoving it in our faces?

And unlike Go, I figured out the Mitty plot device very early in the running time, so there’s that little failure. If they had spent as much time on the story as on the product placement deals…

I’m not going to pan the film entirely.  There’s a lot there to digest. I’ll rate it right down the middle, half-full, half-empty, a very Zen 2.5/5 stars.

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