Anyone expecting Ben Stiller to recycle the two principal intertexts for this story – the James Thurber story or the classic Danny Kaye comedy from 1947 – is likely to be highly disappointed. Superficially the plot remains the same, with Stiller playing a put-upon employee of LIFE magazine who is bullied by the new boss Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott), but eventually discovers himself as a result of a once-in-a-lifetime trip to find elusive photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn), who possesses an elusive negative needed for the final print copy of the magazine. Needless to say everything ends happily, with Mitty discovering to his delight that the photograph celebrates the work of all LIFE’s employees – journalists, printers, editors, photo-staff – who made the magazine such an American institution. He also manages to convince the love of his life, Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig) of the sincerity of his intentions. At heart, however, WALTER MITTY is a story of the importance of discovering yourself, even if the odds seem stacked against you. Walter learns to follow his inclinations, and by doing so fulfills his mother Edna’s (Shirley MacLaine’s) aspirations for him. Stiller gives a delightful performance, his character gradually changing from one of wide-eyed stoicism (which provokes him to daydream) into a person of quiet strength, who is not frightened of confronting Hendricks and telling the boss exactly what he thinks. At another level WALTER MITTY can be seen as an elegy for LIFE magazine, that bastion of American journalism, which has now become an online-only journal due to falling sales and changing reader preferences. The film uses archive material to show how it chronicled all the major events and personalities of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, and how its staff (for the most part) were dedicated to their work. It’s the kind of magazine that doesn’t deserve to be taken over by superficial ignoramuses such as Hendricks, whose principal concern is for profitability rather than journalistic integrity.
10 out of 10 stars