THE 2013 NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL HAS ARRIVED, AND V IS ON THE SCENE TO REPORT BACK ABOUT THE HITS (AND MISSES) COMING SOON TO THEATERS NEAR YOU
REVIEW: ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE
REVIEW: CAPTAIN PHILLIPS
REVIEW: 12 YEARS A SLAVE
GREG K'S TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL REPORT
It’s a shame that Ben Stiller, who directs and stars in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, mentioned the Peter Sellers classic Being There as one of his inspirations in the press conference that followed the film’s debut at the New York Film Festival this past weekend. Now you know where the poster came from. It also probably explains his casting of Shirley MacLaine as Mitty’s mother, an integral character who not only manages to save the day on a couple of occasions but who also serves as an emotional centerpiece in a tale about cherishing beauty and fulfilling life’s fantasies. It might have been obvious anyway: both films feature comics (Sellers/Stiller) in emotionally nuanced roles as unlikely heroes who shed their own expectations and take off on a bewildering journey into the unknown. Still, in spite of these (and probably other) on-the-nose style touchstones, Mitty succeeds as a warm, family-friendly adventure film from a director who never repeats the same thing twice.
Walter Mitty is a negative asset manager at the American publishing stalwart LIFE Magazine, a thankless job at a dying media dinosaur (the magazine is on its way out of print, although its offices are monumental and gorgeous). The magazine is a perfect one to extract metaphors from—about LIFE! Who'da thunk? And it serves as a nostalgic throughline tracing many of the 20th Century's most monumental events via blown-up magazine covers, putting Mitty's adventure into literal context (a scene in which he races past these larger than life magazine covers kicks off the action of the film). When a negative sent by a rugged, esteemed travel photographer (played by Sean Penn) goes missing, Mitty must do whatever it takes to recover it in order to keep his job of sixteen years during a considerable downsizing. Known around the office for his accidental disappearances into personal reverie, Mitty is accustomed to inhabiting large scale worlds of his own imagination, but nothing prepares him for the actual thing as he takes off on a series of real-life adventures in search of his intrepid photographer colleague—a trip that takes him to Greenland, Iceland, ungoverned Afghanistan, and back again.
Unsurprisingly given its director, the film succeeds best at its most comedic and absurd moments, when Mitty takes off on into imagined action sequences that involve tearing apart the city using a Stretch Armstrong doll, or finding courage in fantasy musical numbers featuring David Bowie songs. American-born Icelandic actor Olafur Darri Olafsson steals the movie as an aggressively drunk helicopter pilot, and managed to send the NYFF audience into hysterics with a couple of glazed-over expressions alone during the screening I attended. The story of an art department design-geek with unrealized dreams of grandeur will resonate with anyone who’s worked in an office building (or at a magazine), and there is tremendous satisfaction in seeing Mitty’s greatness realized through his dedication to photography and art done properly. Kristen Wiig is apt as Mitty’s sometimes-unwitting love interest, though it’s a disappointing sidecar role for someone capable of much more in such an otherwise imaginative film. On the whole, the quirky popcorn-feature sends an attractive and exciting #YOLO-style message without injecting too much sap, and it should prove a commercial favorite for film-going families when the holidays hit.
Images courtesy the New York Film Festival