Saturday, 28 December 2013


The little guy who could, re-imagined by the multi-millionaire who did. There was potential in the premise, and there is talent in the details, but Ben Stiller has hewn to his own trail through this insubstantial, queer little comedy, his attention directed toward all the wrong places. It's brave of him to direct said attention to creating something of a new genre - the comedy epic - but you don't get points for bravery, and he doesn't get many for execution either. Pathos is combined with flippancy to form a strange, somewhat disconcerting tone, one which doesn't stick. Neither element is fully cultivated in the process (since this is a strictly half-and-half recipe), and so we float through the experience of watching The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, wondering when either might catch on. Stiller has issues also with, well, himself. Walter is as bland as the film he's in (I think there's some connection there...), a man possessed of few secrets, actually, and not much of a life, even when he spontaneously decides to embark on a globe-spanning adventure in the pursuit of... a photograph. Or himself. Or both? Eventually, he doesn't seem to find himself, alas (or at least we don't), though he does find love. This is the intimate story set against the epic backdrop, literally, but again Stiller won't commit to developing either - this neat little romance, and the laser-focus on Walter even as he encounters sharks or volcanic eruptions or snow leopards, these ought to be immensely emotionally involving. But they're trite and tossed off, and they too fail to stick. And so the film comes off quite narcissistic, a study of self, since Stiller's capacity as actor and director appears heftier (in his own estimation) than his character's capacity for drama. Any hint of empathy only compounds this, as it is dispensed with no sooner than you've begun to recognise it. I felt no empathy for Walter Mitty, and that's not just because nothing deserving of it was written into the role. That's because, for Stiller, Walter is not the unlikely, humble hero. He's just the hero, period. When he descends from the Himalayas to play soccer with Sean Penn and a bunch of Afghan peasant kids against a glimmering sunset, I half expected them to join hands and sing 'We Are the World'. Hands are held, in the end, as Walter achieves what he wished to, not due to his courage but in spite of his dullness. He's not the little guy who could. He might as well be the multi-millionaire who did.