Describing something as nice is usually damning it with faint praise. ‘Nice’ is up there with ‘fine’ and ‘ok’ as adjectives that basically sum up whatever you’re speaking about as average. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is probably the nicest film you’ll see all year. And that’s both a compliment and a criticism.
Watler (Ben Stiller) works in the photo department at Life magazine, which is currently in the process of delivering its final print issue. When the photo earmarked for the very last cover goes missing on his watch, Walter has to stop his constant daydreaming and take action, recover the photo from notoriously hard-to-find photojournalist (Sean Penn) and get the girl of his dreams (Kristen Wiig). If it all sounds a little twee, that’s probably because it is. But on purpose.
Someone taking charge of their life when previously they had been letting it pass them by isn’t the most original of movie plots and the film doesn’t do anything or go anywhere different than you’d expect, save for the daydream sequences which are fun if a little pointless. It swiftly moves from point A to point B without any surprises or shocks, despite containing shark attacks, volcanoes and mountain climbing. It’s a perfectly pleasant lazy Sunday afternoon’s viewing with some lovely visuals and eclectic vignettes rather than anything revelatory.
Which isn’t to say there’s nothing to enjoy here, because there’s plenty. The daydreams of the first half of the film are full of energy and just the right amount of quirk – a karaoke rendition of David Bowie’s Space Oddity which should be cringeworthy is arguably the film’s highlight – to keep them from just becoming little superfluous cutaways (although the Benjamin Button one veers a little too close to Stiller’s more outlandish comedic output and sticks out like a sore thumb here), and the Journey Of Self Discovery™ that Walter goes on is movie magic inspiring but all that hard work is almost undone when the film takes a nosedive into cloying sentimentality in the second half as we’re privy to a travelogue – which is consistently breathtaking – to find the elusive photo, the conclusion to which is so sappy and corny that you can’t believe you wasted 2 hours to get to this point.
And yet, I can’t find myself hating the film at all. Or even mildly disliking it. It’s simply nice. Two hours spent in the company of Walter was as pleasant an experience I’ve had in the cinema. Stiller is on winning form reigning in his comedy persona (so often a hurdle in other serious films he’s made) to generate warm hearted chuckles at times, and as director Stiller is just as comfortable with action and wide shots, aided by unobtrusive CG, as he is with the conversational scenes. Kristen Wiig makes for a charming (if underwritten) romantic interest and Adam Scott plays the hateable boss character so well you’ll want to reach out at the screen and slap him.
A nice film. A very nice film. But not a hugely memorable one. Nice. Fine. Ok. Average.
Review by Jonathan Cardwell.
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