Summary: We’ve broadened our geopolitical analysis to include film criticism by Locke Peterseim, today discussing “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, a 2013 remake of a 1947 escapist movie based on a 1939 short story by James Thurber almost exactly opposite in tone and meaning from the films. Hollywood transforms everything it touches, either to keep us shallow — or because we fear seeing the depth of life.
There are a million reasons (about $100 million budgetary ones, to be exact) that I should hate Ben Stiller’s new adaptation of James Thurber’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, written by Steve Conrad and directed by and starring Stiller.
For this latest update (following the 1947 Danny Kaye version), Walter Mitty (Stiller) is now a modern-day photographic archivist, a physical negative handler for LIFE Magazine at a time when both the magazine and its photography are going all-digital.
Of course Mitty still spends half his time lost in elaborate daydreams fueled by Hollywood hero fantasies, but Walter’s own flat, grey, carefully calibrated life is upended on multiple fronts when he simultaneously develops a crush on a winsome co-worker (Kristin Wiig) and learns (from a hilariously hirsute Adam Scott as his new digital-asshole boss) that the magazine (and most likely his anachronistic job) are morphing away into the Internet ether.
That one-two punch spurs Walter to impulsively set off across Greenland, Iceland, and Afghanistan by helicopter (drunkenly piloted), ship (complete with shark-infested waters), car (outrunning an erupting volcano), and skateboard in search of a mysterious missing photo from a ruggedly elusive star photographer (Sean Penn, nicely both embracing and mocking his own self-serious image). Along the way, we learn how Walter’s loss of his father at a young age deferred his plans, goals, and dreams for a not-so-wonderful dull life of George-Bailey-esque responsibility (sans the loving family and friends).
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a deep-pocketed Hollywood movie that wears its “big ideas” on its oversized, glossy, movie-star sleeve and proudly tosses out not-so-subtle winks about our current human existence.