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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty | Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Sean Penn, Shirley MacLaine, Adam Scott | Review

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Jacqueline  Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also an entertainment reporter for
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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty | Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Sean Penn, Shirley MacLaine, Adam Scott | Review

The 1939 James Thurber short story first became a 1947 movie starring Danny Kaye and now Ben Stiller (Zoolander) directs and stars in this updated version of the meek little man, prone to big daydreams that make his mundane existence tolerable.

With doting mother Edna (Shirley MacLaine) and loudmouth, demanding sister Odessa (Kathryn Hahn) racking up daily expenses, Walter finds solace in harboring a crush on the new girl at work.  Cheryl (Kristen Wiig) would like to get to know Walter better, if only he’d stop staring into space every time he looked at her.  We get to see him go through his superhero routines, but of course, she doesn’t.

Walter works in the basement of Life Magazine’s corporate headquarters, managing negative assets, the kind that come from cameras that still use film.  The magazine is going from print to an online-only version that threatens everyone’s job.  A transition team headed by Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott) whose appearance and persona scream d-bag to the nth degree; he’s a one-dimensional bad guy, existing solely to cause trouble and create contrast for the decent and sincere Walter.

After losing a prized negative from eccentric photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn) Walter embarks on a real-life odyssey for a few reasons. 1. He feels responsible for the lost negative which is slated to become the last printed version of Life Magazine’s cover, and 2. he needs to build up interest in his profile on an online dating site - objective, Cheryl - guided by its service rep (Patton Oswalt) whom he talks to regularly via ordinary cell phone, even when he’s at the summit of the Himalayas.  I know; you just have to go with it.

There are some gems sparkling within a plot which often tries too hard.  Opening credits are ingeniously weaved into Walter’s commute to work; a text message is revealed as a carving in the side of a mountain; a flock of birds suddenly assemble mid-flight into an image of Cheryl’s face.  The scenery of Greenland, Iceland and the majestic Himalayan mountain range is a feast for the eyes, even if the story wanders from implausible to impossible and back again – and that’s just what is supposed to be Walter’s “actual” exploits.

Sweeping visuals aside, the likeable Stiller allows his audience to see the construction of his film, crafted into a sentimental paint-by-numbers composition designed to let the viewer know, in no uncertain terms, that they are to “laugh here” or “get choked up there.”  The last reveal gives the greatest satisfaction, but coming as it does at the end of the film, is not enough to save it from its own treacle trap.

A commendable cast portrays strangely cartoon-like characters, from the angelic Cheryl to the over-the-top ass hat that is Ted, to the wind-swept, edgy photographer that is Sean, to the really, really worthwhile and integrity bedecked Walter.  The screenplay, by Steven Conrad (The Pursuit of Happyness) almost shouts, “Look what I’m trying to do here!”

A film based on a short story based on the difference between wild, exotic adventure and ho-hum, daily life should be able to differentiate between the two; otherwise, there’s no secret to Walter’s life and no reason to keep that a secret as well.

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