Walter Mitty does not have much going for him. He lives a mundane life with a mundane apartment working at a mundane job. However, when his mind drifts he leaps from buildings and saves people, living his “secret life”. When his employer Life magazine effectively closes down, Walter is tasked with developing its final cover, an apparent “antithesis of the human condition” sent in by the adventurous photographer Sean O’Connell (Penn). The negative is nowhere to be found and Walter, motivated by the lack of any life experiences on his eHarmony profile and an internally brooding sense of idealism, decides to track O’Connell down. Walter begins his journey around the globe and the volume of his daydreams begins to decline as his real life becomes more exciting and meaningful.
Walter is arguably Ben Stiller’s best role yet. Unlike many of the other comedy-stars-turned-directors of the past decade, he has the ability to be understated. Walter is about as far from Derek Zoolander and White Goodman as you can get, and if one is looking for a comedy in this vain they will find themselves disappointed. Stiller’s ability to seem like a normal person is key to the film’s charm. Walter Mitty is very funny but the film is not a comedy, think Crazy, Stupid Love rather than Tropic Thunder. The laughs are understated and memorable, focusing on the situations Walter finds himself in. There are one or two occasions that Stiller falls back on cheap laughs (in particular the Benjamin Button sequence) and these often feel jarring and out of place but taken as a whole the understated funniness wins through.
Another plus that Walter Mitty has going for it is the beauty and spectacle of the cinematography. The movie is a splendid tourism advert for Iceland as the scale and wonder of the volcanic island is on show for all to see. The shift from Walter’s tedium and daydreaming to his actual adventures are handled well, with one only occasionally wondering if this is, in fact, all in his head. The cinematography is much like Mitty himself, understated on the outside but full of beauty and romance. This ultimately defines Walter Mitty as a film; it is an uplifting journey of whimsy and discovery sure to appeal to anyone with a penchant for travel and dreamy adventure.