Dec 302013

Title: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

The Secret Life of Walter MittySummary:

Walter is a quiet dreamer who drifts into his imagination to escape his mundane existence and live a life of adventure and romance. The movie is based on the idea of the James Thurber short story from 1939, which has been adapted numerous times and entered popular culture as an archetype of the distracted dreamer.

Appropriate for:

Ages 10 and up

I’m recommending this film for a slightly older audience not because there’s anything particularly objectionable for younger kids but because I think older kids will be better able to track the sometimes very subtle shifts between Walter’s fantasies and reality and better appreciate his growth through the story.

Content Warnings:

There is some mild language (nothing your average 10 year old hasn’t already heard on the playground) as well as some mild action violence. There’s fighting, jumping through windows, and a scene with a shark that’s actually quite funny (“stop befriending it!”) and realistically scary at the same time.

The Scoop:

The movie has not been getting great professional reviews, mostly mixed, but audience reviews have been fairly overwhelmingly positive. I think this says something about the state of professional film criticism today. As someone who has to look at pop culture with a critical eye and find something to write about it I can understand where the critics are coming from. Walter Mitty is not a perfect film. The outcome is completely predictable. Although I could make a case that this was intentional and Walter’s happy ending is a metaphorical extension of his fantasy life brought about by his personal growth. But that would be me as a critic looking for themes to write about.

Having said that, one thing I cannot forgive is the over the top product placement. Seriously, I don’t care how much money they paid. I’m not talking about LIFE Magazine, I liked the way it was used in the story, but there is a certain pizza I’m going to actively avoid in the future.

But don’t let that interfere with your enjoyment of the movie.

When you’re talking about source material that is a 2,083 word short story, which itself has been distilled to an idea that can be expressed in one brief sentence, it gives storytellers quite a bit of latitude to interpret the idea. There is no one right answer for how the story of Walter Mitty should be told. Although I will make the case that the Chuck Jones cartoons “From A to ZZZ” and “Boyhood Daze” are the purest expressions of the original story’s ideas. If you get a chance (and you can find them) you should definitely check them out.

The best way to view Ben Stiller’s version of Walter Mitty is not with a critical eye but to open yourself to the experience and just let it flow around you. It doesn’t require a willing suspension of disbelief so much as a willing suspension of nitpickery. If you do that I think you’ll find it to be a very enjoyable experience. The predictable happy ending then comes not as a bothersome predictable ending but rather as a satisfying conclusion to a light and engaging fantasy.

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