Rated PG for some crude comments, language and action violence .
Starring Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Shirley MacLaine, Adam Scott, Kathryn Hahn, Sean Penn, Patton Oswalt, Adrian Martinez, Joey Slotnick.
Written by Steve Conrad, based on the book by James Thurber.
Directed by Ben Stiller.
When it comes to making movies based on classic books or stories, it takes a lot of leeway to see past the differences between the pages and the screen - especially for book fans. From Harry Potter to the Lord of the Rings, bookish types seem resigned to the fact that the words they love never seem to pass through the film-making process unscathed. In the case of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, book fans can pretty much prepare themselves to forget James Thurber's original story ever existed - and leave it at that.
Ben Stiller stars and directs himself in the story's title role of Mitty; a man of little excitement and great imagination. As Mitty tries to care for his elderly mother (Shirley MacLaine), he is faced with downsizing at his job. Mitty works as a "negative asset manager" for Life Magazine, about to discontinue their print version and transform into online distribution. As Mitty meets his new boss Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott), he faces ridicule and is subjected to heightened scrutiny for occasionally drifting off into fantastical daydreams in which he is a heroic figure (other than the title, that's pretty much where Stiller parts with Thurber). Mitty also meets and is smitten with Cheryl (Krsiten Wiig), a new employee and single mother.
As the corporate downsizing and takeover continues, Mitty loses in important photographic negative, sent to him by Sean O'Connell (Sean Penn), Life's most respected and esteemed photographer. When Hendricks threatens him with his job, Mitty takes off on a real adventure to Greenland (and other faraway lands) in search of O'Connell to see if he can retrieve the negative. Mitty's travels help him understand the difference between dreaming of greatness and actually living.
I was skeptical that Ben Stiller could pull off an adaptation of Thurber's classic story, and if you throw out the notion that it's an adaptation to begin with, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a pretty good film. It's certainly the best film from Stiller in a long time, and void his familiar witless characters seen in so many other films. You don't even get the trademark "Stiller rage moment," a staple of his cinematic body of work. Stiller's performance is subtle and heartwarming, and allows others to shine through - instead of dominating screen time with his "hapless victim" routine.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (the film) may not follow any part of Thurber's story, but it captures the proper spirit of imagination while adding a little message that will ring true for any dreamer out there.