Though his leading man status has gone from encouragingly superb to incorrigibly bland, Ben Stiller’s succinct filmography as a director carries a more respectable reputation (Tropic Thunder, Zoolander, Reality Bites). Putting himself once again in front of and behind the camera, this modern take on the 1947 daydreamer comedy is a totally fine, but heavily flawed, Stiller-helmed staple.
From the introduction to the titular office worker’s 9-to-5 life, the movie works profoundly on a visual level. Cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh (who shot Kiwi classics The Piano and In My Father’s Den) captures the first act with a Wes Anderson-like eye, using symmetrical compositions fuelled by rigid right angles to emphasise the cog-turning functionality of Mitty’s daily world. While this depicts the lead character’s universe with its own unique, almost anthropological beauty (a point that becomes key later on), it simultaneously conveys the confinements of his daily life. Juxtaposed with the free-flowing scenes in Mitty’s wild imagination and his ‘real life’ overseas experiences, the film hits visual storytelling gold, with the camera seemingly exploring vast new movements as Walter explores vast new lands and cultures.
Unfortunately, the script can’t quite keep up with this cinematic display, resulting in a film that invigorates more than it cerebrally initiates. For a film that chooses to philosophise the ways to value our existence, it needs to nail both. Yet, when it’s time for Mitty to dispense his worldly knowledge onto the jerk who fired him, the only life lesson he can muster is “Yo, don’t be an asshole.” And the less said about Patton Oswalt’s irritatingly contrived character, the better.
‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ Movie Times