With its intriguing first trailer, "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" came to its world premiere with understandably high expectations. Its escapist vision promised much and from my point of view, it delivers.
As the title suggests, the film focuses on the life of a man named Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller), whose daily life is filled with fanciful daydreams. Longing for adventure outside of his office job (he manages the film negatives at Life Magazine), he gets his wish when a missing negative forces him to go on an epic trip to track down the photographer. Determined to keep his job under the reign of his villainous boss (Adam Scott), he's faced with obstacles that open up his previously untapped potential.
The trailer I mentioned really does play an important part in how the viewer responds to the material. From the very first scene, the film quickly shows its comedic intent, rather than the sentimental tone that the trailer presents. Yes, it's consciously sweet with saccharine elements, but it's also filled with many instances of broad humour. Some of the daydreams recall some of Stiller's previous work (like "Zoolander" and "Tropic Thunder") and may therefore make it seem like a movie without sufficient depth. I maintain however, that the script is admirably appropriate for its ambitions.
One of the great attributes of the film is that it doesn't sell the lead character as a hopeless sad sack. In fact, as he embarks on his journey he reveals his inner confidence and bravery. He's actually a pretty cool guy. A more dramatic film would have honed in on the depression and melancholy of the character trope, but Stiller is resolute in maintaining the film's optimism. It makes for an enjoyable viewing experience, amplified by excellent choice of music and most notably, the film's expressive visual choices. It's filled with stunning shots inspired by still photography, with interesting framing and angles. There are many overtly comical daydream sequences, but these visuals add a level of sophistication. Acting-wise, the cast is fine but it's clear that the direction is the film's driving force.
Ben Stiller is clearly a director that is finding his voice. His filmography may seem diverse, but there's a common exuberance that's almost uniquely his own. After only a few films, he seems poised to become a true auteur in the comedy genre. With its joyous attitude, "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" is sure to have mass appeal. It's a celebration of humanity at its finest as well as the gorgeous beauty of our natural world. Cast aside any misanthropy you may have and just enjoy the ride. Rating: ★★★★1/2