The Secret Life of Water Mitty (2013) (PG)

Ben Stiller's "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" is a work in hipster-placating nonsense. Much like Spike Jonze's "Her", the movie relies heavily on its look and its soundtrack, which both are fairly solid. Alas, unlike the unconventional romance, there is pretty much nothing underneath it all.
Have you ever had day dreams about punching that annoying co-worker in the face? How about going up to your crush and planting a kiss right on them, only to find out that they have been dying for you to do that all along? Win a competition? Of course you have, and so has Walter Mitty. He daydreams constantly, it consumes the majority of his time, because he wishes that he could be romantic, a poet, and a warrior—Adventurous, Brave, and Creative.
The movie begins as Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) painfully sits at his computer and tries to cyber-flirt with a girl that he works with, named Cheryl (Kristen Wiig). He is using eHarmony and it isn't going very well because the site won't send a "wink" to Cheryl. This gets Walter having a conversation with Todd (Patton Oswalt) an eHarmony support guy.
But moving on...
Walter works at Life magazine which is in its final stages before shutting down and becoming solely web-based. The man supervising the change is Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott complete with sketchy beard) who doesn't really like Walter.
For the final issue, they are going to use a photograph taken by the legendary photographer Sean O'Connell (Sean Penn). The negative in question, said to be "the quintessence of life" is number 25 on a reel that the photographer just sent, including a present for Walter for all the years the two collaborated. The present is a wallet with an inspiring quotation and the negative is missing...uh-oh. Not taking it lightly that he just misplaced what could have been the most important photograph of his career, Walter tries desperately to stall for time which leads him to try to track Sean O'Connell down.
Using three workable images from the reel of negatives, Walter tries to get clues as to the photographer's whereabouts and this leads him on a physical, spiritual, and adventure-filled trip.
It's so crass, this movie. "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" would like you to believe that it's as easy as all that, you can just give up your life and go traipsing around the won't matter; but the sad fact that the movie doesn't address is that these things don't just happen. Maybe I'm a cynic, but it would seem to me that the point of the movie is blind rejection of the social structure...which could be a good thing (don't get me wrong). I'm all for letting your hair down and traveling the world, I just don't see Walter as that kind of person. He's much more bookish, adventuring in his mind and not with his body; but when he does get the chance to go places, he does so effortlessly. This man is in tremendous physical shape, yet we never see a gym, nary a treadmill. What gives?
Using many moments of fantasy to fuel its story, "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" is slow starting and then goes too fast for the rest of the film. There are inspired performances here, namely by the seasoned cast that includes Shirley MacLaine, Sean Penn, and Patton Oswalt...but the rest of it is just too cutesy for me. There is no real emotional connection that I have with the piece, though I applaud Stiller for his effort.
Much of the movie seems like a perfect project for a high-school student to dissect. It's also the kind of movie that is both inspiring and depressing: look here's a film made by a guy who makes films about how you (who cannot make films) should try to reach for your goals. Maybe I'm just being bitter...
All this to say that there is absolutely nothing malignant to Walter Mitty. If you want to watch the movie and just be inspired, good for you. For me, the movie balances its dramatic scenes with Stiller's awkward sense of humor and most the potentially great moments collapse swifter than a tranquilized rhinoceros.
"The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" is well-made and likable, but nothing impactful.

Score: ★★½

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