If Ben Stiller and assorted executives got less than half of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’s $90 million budget from eHarmony, they should probably take a few years off from filmmaking and re-think some life choices.
Stiller stars (and also produces and directs) as Mitty, Life Magazine’s photo manager. Mitty has humongous daydreams, but starts out to scared to send a wink on the movie’s patron dating site.
In the film, Life is shifting to online-only and downsizing. Renowned photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn) has sent in a photo that he wants to be the magazine’s last cover, but Mitty can’t find it. Despite working with him for 16 years, Mitty has no way of contacting O’Connell other than tracking him down in person. Spurred on by his cheerful and always helpful eHarmony customer service representative (Patton Oswalt) and his very creepy crush on coworker Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig), Mitty crosses the globe tracking O’Connell.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a confused, tangled mess of scenes, though almost all of them are delightful and heart-felt.
It’s easy to split the film into three distinct categories: scenes where Mitty is fanaticizing, scenes where he’s acting out his fantasies and scenes where nothing much is happening. One of these scenes is wonderful and the reason to watch this movie. One of them is empowering, but still carries a tinge of cartoonish wish-fulfillment that dilutes the effect. In the other, not much is happening.
The movie is frustrating and inconstant. Parts of it feel like the whole thing should have been made a short story, and other parts of it feel like pieces of a movie that needed to be split in two. But this can’t be born of inconsistency, because the feeling it gives is remarkably consistent — at the end, it feels like you watched a fluffy rom-com out of one eye and a sprawling adventure epic out of the other. The experience is unique, though not entirely pleasant.
Secret Life runs into its biggest problem when trying to figure out its target audience. It is clearly a kids movie, with a PG rating, a kid-friendly star and a refusal to look into its themes in any real detail. Mitty is driven far out of his comfort zone trying to impress a woman he barely knows who is half a world away most of the film. Attaching that level of significance to a crush isn’t unheard of, but this instance is creepy and unhealthy and the film seems to condone it.
The movie is a coming of age party for a man in his late 40s, but it doesn’t explore the regret inherent with going through that process so late in life. Like so many kids movies, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty only dances around the darker emotions and is too scared to dive into them.
It is also a functional eHarmony commercial, so someone had to expect an audience of people over 40. Maybe the key demographic for this Christmas Day release is single parents?
The film is mostly delightful and appropriate for any of its potential demographics, but I have to wonder if a given audience member wouldn’t be better served by a more tailored film.
Joshua Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist, journalism and film student at the University of North Texas and a senior staff writer for the NT Daily. All kidding aside, it’s a travesty that Neil Clark Warren doesn’t have a producer credit on this thing. For questions, rebuttals and further guidance about cinema, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. At this point, I’d like to remind you that you shouldn’t actually go to movies and form your own opinions. That’s what I’m here for. Keep reading, the data-dump isn’t over yet.