Ben Stiller sure has a knack for choosing film roles that are atypical at best. In one film he’s straight-up comedy man, and in another he’s all serious. It’s this variety of character portrayals that makes Stiller more than one a one-trick pony. 2013’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a showcase in just that; Stiller turns in a performance that is equal parts endearing and melancholic. And with a supporting cast that includes the amazing Kristen Wiig and the formidable Kathryn Hahn, Mitty becomes an epic of sorts in Hollywood’s factory of formulaic fodder.
The Secret Life of Water Mitty is the first in my weekly “Underrated Movie Monday” postings for the obvious reason that it came and went from the public eye without any real appropriate coverage or praise. Making a decent amount of box office coin, it sort of just disappeared from the public’s cultural consciousness. The film itself was based on the 1939 short story of the same name, and also had a previous cinematic incarnation in 1947, but the 2013 version is leaps and bounds above what was intimated in the previous versions of the story.
The depicted scenes look like something right out of your imagination. The colors so saturated, the site lines so infinite, the film at times calls to mind a living LIFE magazine, which interestingly plays into the plot of the film itself. The protagonist, Mr. Mitty, is modern and hopeless. He’s simple but endearing. Not at typical protagonist doth he makes. With the magazine he works for moving to online only (hello commentary of our internet obsessed culture), Mitty searches for the one negative he thinks would perfectly capture what the final print version of what LIFE should look like. This search takes him from the oft-unfilmed countries of Greenland and Iceland to find the photographer of this negative that he just can’t seem to locate.
This journey to find an image for a magazine called LIFE is subversion at its best. Mitty finally gets to really live his own life by searching for an image to be printed on a magazine called LIFE. What he discovers on this journey is that while under the pretense of finding an image, which in itself denotes superficiality, he finds that life is meant to be lived and not just looked at. It’s actually a really powerful message.
The supporting cast serve their purpose supremely without being obvious. Each interaction that Mitty encounters demonstrates his complicated nature, but also shows the inherent simplicity in his the attainment of his goals – to find the picture.
For some time after watching Mitty, I found myself going back to analyze the majestic images and inferred meanings. Stiller, who also directed the film, has managed to add real life to the series of moving images which remind the viewer to stop dreaming…and start living.