Review: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty


On my first day of college orientation, the RA asked everyone on our hall to tell one fact about themselves. I proudly boasted that "I see everything in life as one big movie." My RA snickered. "Doesn't everyone?" she replied, as I shut my mouth and felt foolish. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a film that, if my old RA and I were to watch together, would agree is a great example of "life as one big movie."

The best way I can describe the film is like this: It reminded me of those days where you put your headphones on, rev up a good playlist, and just take in all that's happening around you. You might create a scenario for that guy who's in line ahead of you at the coffeeshop, or wonder where that mom and her kids are going. You create your own personal movie, one that only you know how it will end. I believe this is what lead actor and director Ben Stiller was going for.

Stiller plays Walter Mitty, a middle-aged man who works in the Negative Assests Department of LIFE Magazine. In this busy, fast-paced environment, we see that Walter seems out of place. He is awkward, mumbles each sentence and can't quite figure out how to interact with people. Instead, we see everything that he imagines (or maybe wishes) he could say -- to his friends, his coworkers and especially Cheryl (Kristen Wiig), the woman he has his eye on. These daydreams are played out in the most absurd of ways, although probably not too far off from something audience members have probably envisioned themselves doing in their own lives.

With the magazine going digital, Walter and everyone else's jobs are on the line. The one thing that could possibly save him is presenting negative #25 to the higher-ups, a photograph sent to Walter's department by LIFE photographer Sean O'Connell (Sean Penn) that is to serve as the final issue's cover photo. There's just one small problem: the negative is nowhere to be found.  

With his career on the line, as well as his failed attempts at getting Cheryl to notice him, Walter has hit a wall, unsure of where to go. It seems he's dedicated 16 years to his job have given him nothing to show for it. Finally on his last straw, Walter decides that instead of letting his future take hold of him, he is going to take hold of it instead. What follows is his search not only for Sean and the missing negative, but a search for the person Walter always dreamed of being.

Speaking as someone who has never seen the original 1947 version of the film, I can see how The Secret Life of Walter Mitty might not sit well with a lot of people. If you've seen the original, or if you've read the short story, you will probably have some opinions about Stiller's version; I certainly have been in that position. It is obvious that many of the contemporary references and absurd daydream scenarios are from a zany, childish-like brain that can only be attributed to Stiller's direction. Paired with cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh's breathtaking shots of Walter's trips, along with a stellar soundtrack by Theodore Shapiro and Jose Gonzalez, the film is sure to cause you to get lost in your own personal adventure alongside Walter.

I found this film to be relatable, as someone who is also a daydreamer. It is so easy to fall into a routine, day-to-day life that can often times be hard to appreciate. Sometimes, it's necessary to get away and see life on the other side -- of the street, of the state, maybe even the world. There is an obvious change to Walter by the end of the film. Although subtle, you can tell how his journeys have changed him and, if anything, given him more confidence in his everyday life.

This film may have its flaws, but it left me with an itch to start planning a trip to somewhere I've never been. In the end, I think The Secret Life of Walter Mitty gives you the hope that it's never too late to start living your life.