We gave it a B-
For more than a decade, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty has been a twinkle in the eye of various screenwriters, filmmakers, and stars. Under Ben Stiller, pulling double duty as both lead actor and director, it’s finally a reality. Inspired by the 1939 James Thurber short story (previously the basis for a 1947 Danny Kaye film), the movie follows a shy man (Stiller) who spices up his dull existence by imagining himself in fantastical, heroic situations. ”He’s at a point where a lot of his life has gone by,” Stiller says. ”He had a lot of ambitions, but then retreated into his head. The story gets into the reason why someone becomes a daydreamer.”
As photo editor for the final issue of LIFE magazine, Walter heads out on a real adventure to dangerous corners of the world seeking a missing shot by a famous photographer (Sean Penn). He is aided by his co-worker Cheryl (Kristen Wiig), who helps him rouse his courage. ”They have a lot of similarities,” Wiig says. ”She’s not necessarily living the life she wants to live.” Thanks to his overactive imagination, Walter even summons a vision of Cheryl whenever he needs a nudge on his journey. ”She helps him make that leap out into the world, even though it’s kind of in his head,” Stiller says.
Given the film’s tricky blend of humor and pathos, of reality and fantasy, it’s no wonder Hollywood had a hard time bringing the project to the screen. ”It’s so hard to describe this movie because it’s so many different things,” Wiig says. But if you can imagine it, it’s probably in there.