The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is, spoiler warning, about a guy named Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller). He works at LIFE Magazine, processing photographs to be printed. This photo is special though, pegged to be the cover for the final print issue of LIFE. And Walter can’t find the picture. So he sets off on a journey across multiple continents to find the photographer (Sean Penn).
But this tale is more about self discovery than a magazine. Walter is well into middle age, still single, holding the same job for nearly two decades. He has to give up his dream of traveling the world after his father died, leaving Walter to support his mother and sister at just 16 years old. His life since hasn't been anything noteworthy or mentionable since. He still dreams of more though, living through vivid daydreams that leaving him drifting off into space, away from reality. Being away from reality only further hinders his ability to be social, being only able to speak to co-worker Cheryl (Kristen Wiig) in his imagination, while stumbling over his words out loud. This makes the movie, as we watch Mitty emerge from his shell, doing things he only dreamed of.
Walter gets to grow throughout the story, as he finally gets the push out the door he always needed, partly from Cheryl, trying to save both his job as well as hers. The story does not have the usual progression, but slows down in the final third to develop the characters even more. This leads to the perfect conclusion that is better than anything you could possibly predict.
The Secret Life is brilliantly directed by Ben Stiller himself (who also produced), giving us great shots of Greenland, Iceland, as well as the Himalayas. Stiller perfectly sets the tone, always using light colors and great lighting to keep the film warm. I do hope he directs more films soon, and keeps a solid mix of drama and comedy on his slate. It is always good to see an actor known for comedy do a serious film(the reverse would be Jason Statham in a rom-com), and Stiller does it brilliantly.
The best part of the film is how relatable it is. We all have things we want to be, things we want to do, but never get to accomplish. Everyone has dreamed of being a superhero, seeing the world, falling in love. Yet not everyone can be Tony Stark. Some of us have to be Walter Mitty, who can make life extraordinary if only we could stop dreaming and live. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was unfortunately ignored at the Oscar Nominations last month, but it is a fantastic film that I think everyone needs to see, and one that I plan to see again.