The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty - Blu-ray Review

'Stiller crafts in Walter Mitty an endearing yet unremarkable presence who you can’t help but warm to'

Ben Stiller’s latest, The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty, has more than a little in common with Marc Forster’s oft-overlooked 2006 delight Stranger Than Fiction. Both feature comic performers playing against type in the lead (Stiller here, Will Ferrell in Forster’s film); both focus upon initially mundane characters who experience some sort of disruption which alters their life; and both adopt a similar tone through blending the real with the fantastical.

As both director and star, Stiller could do a lot worse than to emulate Forster’s prior success, and pleasingly manages to do so in several ways. In the eponymous role, Stiller is satisfyingly understated for much of the film. The actor crafts in Walter Mitty an endearing yet unremarkable presence who you can’t help but warm to and feel sympathy for, especially during the film’s opening act. Kristen Wiig as Cheryl, Walter’s co-worker and secret object of his affections, also does well to keep things subtle with a performance a world away from her other 2013 office romance with Steve Carell’s Brick Tamland in Anchorman 2.

When it comes to Walter’s daydreaming, Stiller as director doesn’t do quite as well in reigning things in. The blending of Walter’s two worlds is presented skilfully, with the fantasy element of Walter’s life presented in a style similar to TV series Scrubs and working best when Stiller keeps things simple and downplayed. An early imagined quip to Walter’s new boss Ted (Adam Scott) works much better than a full-blown action sequence involving Walter, Ted and a particular retro action figure seen soon after. Another daydream sequence riffing on The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button feels entirely misjudged and should be in a different film altogether.

The narrative allows Walter to develop a great deal from start to finish, and Stiller’s performance means you’ll be continually invested in what’s happening and rooting for the character in whatever he’s doing. That doesn’t stop matters from feeling distinctly episodic, however, with Walter essentially jumping from one scenario to the next - quite literally at one or two points. It also doesn’t make up for several of the characters surrounding Walter from feeling decidedly lacking in depth. Adventurous photojournalist Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn, a welcome presence in a cameo role) feels so whimsical in his presentation I was prepared at several points for him to be revealed as nothing more than a product of Walter’s wild imagination. Perhaps the character might have worked somewhat better if he actually had been.

Whilst Stiller’s message of living life rather than experiencing it through the adventures of others is no doubt a positive one - one that Stiller the actor puts across pleasingly through Walter - as a director he too often lacks the subtlety of touch to avoid making his moral too on-the-nose in its execution. It’s this overstated feel that means The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty never manages to achieve the highs of Stranger Than Fiction. This is undoubtedly Stiller’s most impressive directorial effort to date, but on the evidence here he still has some way to go in honing his craftsmanship behind the camera.

The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty is released on UK DVD and Blu-ray on Monday 21st April 2014.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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