This originally appeared on misteragyeman.blogspot.com on February 20, 2015.
In the first week of this year, I sat down and inhaled a few movies before heading off to exam boot camp. The lost started with Les Misérables, which I was kind of avoiding because everybody kept assuming I was a fan. I thought Russell Crowe’s portrayal of a stuffed-shirt was surprisingly good. At least I hope it was just method acting, and he doesn’t really sing like that.
27 Dresses followed; I’ve seen this movie before, and I’m not inclined to say much about it. Turns out though- there’s a very nice song that plays behind the credits.
Then we caught Winnie just as it was starting. Very… bold movie, I thought. I had just assumed that Winnie Madikizela was involved in the project. It feels like talking about somebody behind their back, for some reason. Or is it just me? It deals with dark times and dark happenings, and nobody comes out smelling of roses. Tough movie.
When I happened upon The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, it had been on for fifteen minutes. I tuned in just as the obscenely well-groomed (and blasphemously bearded) Adam Scott finished his ‘Quintessence’ speech, and the cloud of post-Winnie fatalism lifted. The movie is ridiculously optimistic, starting from the fact that they even spent so much on the shooting and special effects. In the real world, if the sharks don’t get you, it’s just a matter of time till the hypothermia does. In Mitty’s world, however, even Cinnabons taste better.
I watched the movie for a third time three days ago, and halfway through I Googled the title and discovered James Thurber’s short story, so the movie has also introduced me to a wonderful writer. His New Yorker contributions alone will be keeping me happy for a while. I also discovered the reviews, which tend to focus on the can-do tone and the overt product plugs.
I have never been a real Ben Stiller fan. His typical character is quite impressive, with toned physique and desirable leading ladies. There will be quirks, but he eventually overcomes them and gets the girl. I generally prefer Steve Carrell, because it’s easier to sympathize with bad luck than with eccentricity. It gets old, watching Ben get his act together and realize that she was the one all along.
So we’ve established I’m a Ben Stiller hater? Good. Because I intensely enjoyed Ben Stiller’s Mitty character. I also loved Theodore Shapiro’s music, and the way the plot has you trying to classify what’s fantasy and what is real. I liked the idea that reality can be fantastic. If that makes me a middle-aged man in desperate need of a pick-me-up- well, they already call me that.
But above all, I adored the imagery. Of course, most of the movie’s fun rests in the gags, which felt like somebody just reached into the Hollywood toolbox and grabbed a fistful of spectacle. But the panoramic shots were wonderful, from the mountains to the urban settings. I don’t have a good eye for photography, but I was conscious of the cinematographer’s touch in ways I hadn’t been before. I don’t know if Ben Stiller had much to do with the beauty of the film; if he did, dude, respect.
‘Beautiful things don’t ask for attention’. Sean Penn’s bit of guru wisdom from the movie. It’s a movie- of course it begs for attention; but it didn’t get enough for a long time, getting tossed from studio to studio, directors and leads coming and going. I’m glad Hollywood decided to commit the money and talent to make The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, no matter how they doctored the feel or soiled it with merchandise. I found its irrationally perky message to be a nice change in this recession era where protagonists die in happy endings. And it’s nice when the mainstream gets a dose of artistry.
Go, I bid you, and watch this thing.