Discovery: Walter Mitty

This orig­i­nally appeared on mis​ter​agye​man​.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.