Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Big Screen Secret Life

Comic actors have been known to switch their style over their careers and sometimes that can be a big change - whether it is taking on more serious roles like Jonah Hill in Moneyball or directorial positions like Zach Braff with Garden State (and the upcoming Wish I Was Here). Today’s film is directed by and stars a big comic actor playing a serious role. This is The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty.

Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) is a normal man. A normal man with a normal job working with the negative rolls of photos for Life Magazine. He spends his time zoning out and day dreaming about being someone interesting or admitting his feelings for Cheryl (Kristen Wiig). But when Life Magazine starts going through a transitional period to become an online publication, the company and Walter's job becomes threatened. Head of the transition period, Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott), pesters Walter for famous photographer Sean O'Connell's (Sean Penn) new photo for the final cover of Life but it is missing. Suddenly, Walter jumps (sometimes literally) into an adventure to find the negative and his simple business man life will never be the same. 

The negative part of the film... Literally. 

Ben Stiller has never hid his acting talents, but he has veiled them behind his comedy. Not here. Stiller is in top form as Mitty, capitalising on all aspects of the character from boring workman to adventurer, the change between the two never feeling forced. His heartfelt adventure is fuelled by dedication and loyalty as well as an overwhelming dedication to Wiig's Cheryl, all of which Stiller portrays without a hitch. Wiig, too, is endlessly likeable, the polar opposite of Scott's Hendricks, who is perfectly horrid. He is rude, arrogant, and ignorant, whilst Wiig's Cheryl is supportive, friendly, and kind when no one else is. It is the balance of these two that spur Mitty's adventure and fortunately the balance is just right. The audience can identify with Mitty, they feel the same anger towards Hendricks that Walter does, as well as the same level of loyalty to Cheryl.

Stiller's hottest role to date.

But what Walter's adventure excels in is its minor characters. An extremely drunk pilot, a seaman, an E-Harmony employee, a simple hotel worker. Steve Conrad's screenplay make these characters completely irreplaceable. It is not just that Walter needs them and their to get through his adventure, Stiller's direction and Conrad's writing give them such heart you cannot help but fall in love with all of them. Whether it is Todd constantly calling from the E-Harmony call centre trying to update Walter's profile because it is so dull or the helicopter pilot singing loudly into a karaoke machine, drinking a boot of beer, they are fully realised characters, despite the tiny screen time.

'And what?'

The film is also visually stunning. It is always helpful to be set in the volcanic regions of Iceland at points in the film, but the camera work is so gracefully presented, and combined with such a brilliant soundtrack of soft indie music, the film overwhelms the audio-visual senses with perfect technicality. The story telling is only one aspect of film-making; how it is made is equally important and Stiller has completely understood this. However, the romance between Mitty and Cheryl often feels forced, especially nearer the end of the film. It is an unneeded aspect of an otherwise lovely film. Remove the romantic development and the film loses nothing of worth. Is friendship between a man and a woman such a scary thought for Hollywood? Either way, the films artistic merits outweigh the flaws. The first act of the film, Walter's daydreams mash through all genres of film proving that Stiller, as a director can do, pretty much, anything. Intimate fight scenes, superhero fight scenes, Benjamin Button, and so on.

A truly delightful film. There is soul in The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty that has led it to be described as a new Forrest Gump. Of course, it is not quite the classic standard that Gump is, but there is no way one could leave the cinema without a smile on their face. Mitty takes us on a journey and it is completely captivated.

Best Bit? There's several moments, but his time spent in Iceland easily comes out top. There's karaoke, a performance of Major Tom's (David Bowie) Space Oddity, a drunk pilot, and a hilarious sequence that involves jumping onto a boat and sharks. Either that or the superhero fight sequence.

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