The plot revolves around the title character Walter Mitty(Ben Stiller), working developing negatives for Life Magazine. He experiences wild daydreams on a regular basis. He has trouble working up the confidence to talk to his cute co-worker Cheryl(Kristen Wiig). Life magazine is about to stop printing, and the negative from their most esteemed photographer, Sean O’Connell(Sean Penn), that is going to run on the final cover is missing. This sets Walter on a cross-continental journey to locate Sean, the missing negative and his own sense of adventure and courage.
The acting is suitable all-around. Stiller plays Walter’s timidity almost naturally, and very likeably as well. The character of Cheryl is mostly a token role, but thanks to Wiig is given life. Adam Scott turns up his natural smarm to disgusting in an entertaining performance as Ted Hendricks, the villain of sorts who is in charge of transitioning the magazine to internet-only. Patton Oswalt and Sean Penn provide fun, but brief performances as well. While perhaps the greatest praise I can give the acting in this film is “suitable”, it’s not faint praise.
I’ve always thought Ben Stiller’s best all-around work was in the films he directed, and this film reinforced that statement for me. While again, his performance was suitable, it was his direction that really shined. Because he’s best known as an actor, it’s easy to forget that he is no newcomer to directing, this being his 5thdirectorial feature film. He fills each frame with confidence that his protagonist aspires to, and cuts the visuals with inspired soundtrack choices wonderfully, showing us that he can play with large, thematic and dramatic material. This is all possible certainly with large thanks from some very impressive photography from Stuart Dryburgh.
To my surprise, it’s been hard for me to find any positive reviews out there for this film. I’ve heard many complaints about the product placement in this film, which I’ll agree with to a certain point. They did distract, but my friend made an interesting observation: Stiller does his best to use them as a plot tool rather than a paycheck. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that we are bombarded with them in the hustle and bustle of NYC, yet freed (barring one scene) from them once Walter goes on his journey and “escapes” from the constant adverts in today’s society.
I think perhaps that some people’s hearts are just two sizes too small to enjoy this film. Is it sappy, sentimental, even pseudo-inspirational? To a certain extent yes, but I say “to a certain extent” because it’s always creative in it’s approach of these easily tacky messages and themes. Perhaps you just have to be in the right mood to watch this film. I know I was.