Remakes can be great as long as they can respect and build on the source material. However, most casual movie goers can tell you that this is rarely, if ever, the case. Most remakes are lazy screenplays hoping to couch on the success of a familiar title. Ben Stiller’s last film seemed to be a step in the right direction, and yet, the final product was as decidedly insulting to both the source material as it was the audience’s intelligence.
Let’s take a look at The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
The plot of the movie revolves around Walter Mitty, who is the head of Time’s photo archive. The publication is about to shut down, waiting on the final photo of famous photographer Sean O’Connell. When it seems to have disappeared into thin air, Mitty goes on an adventure to find him thanks to the support from his love interest Cheryl. You will notice this is almost nothing like the premise of the original film but that’s why it’s a remake.
The big problem with the movie (beside egregiously misinterpreting Space Oddity, David Bowie’s best song) is it tries so hard to be meaningful that it becomes this bland, pseudo-deep drama about someone who is supposed to uninteresting and afraid to take risks, who is literally neither of these things. He’s a former skateboarder who lost his father, had a mohawk, and works in a highly specialized job at one of the most prestigious publications in recent history – how is that boring? And as for the second, we never see him get nervous or anxious except once when he’s hesitant to get on a helicopter with a drunk pilot, something I’m pretty sure most people would agree is a bad idea.
This journey of self discovery isn’t about a guy who plays it safe seeing the world, it’s about a relatively normal day dreamer seeing parts of the world and learns nothing. The original Walter Mitty was a guy who played it super safe and dreamt he was a fighter pilot or a spy and then learns to stop being a pushover. What does Walter learn? NOTHING. He would have been way more apprehensive or scared about every new situation but he instantly adapts and accepts everything. There’s no character arc which makes him a flat person. It can be hard to tell if what’s happening on screen is a fantasy or not because it seems so bizarre but he never shifts in demeanor or expression. Having the love interest doesn’t help, not that Kristen Wiig’s acting is at fault here.
Stiller is not a bad director but he was working with a bad screenplay and tried to build emotional ties that just were not there to begin with. You can see it in the visual components of the film, which are actually stunning. It’s a beautifully shot film, making it an even sadder experience because those great shots and musics were wasted on a mediocre story.
The acting is also particular strong. Stiller and Wiig are known for their quality work to begin with, but it’s nice to see Wiig actually doing dramas. Sean Penn has a small role but he manages to get a few laughs out of the audience, adding to this weird, other worldly feel of the movie. Adam Scott does his best with the little he has but you can only grasp at straws for so long.
Overall, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a middle of the way film in that it’s easy to appreciate the visual aspects, but the story is what matters and the story is sub-par. Stiller should keep making movies, he has a wonderful eye for it, but next time pick his projects a little more carefully. I wouldn’t recommend seeing it in theaters unless you are desperate to see Adam Scott’s evil beard in action.
– Poor screenwriting.
– Flawed premise.
– Poor remake.
– Good cinematography.
– Strong acting.