James Thurber’s short story about a dreamy, mild man leading a mundane, boring life escaping into adventures was about 2100 words long. Ben Stiller’s adaptation of it is about 125 minutes. But for the basic premise of story, there is very little this quirky film borrows. If Thurber’s story sticks to mere contrast of the life he leads and the dreams he has, Stiller’s film is way more ambitious. It wants to rescue Walter Mitty from his boring life and give him a real adventure. As the posters tell us, “Stop dreaming, start living.”
Or maybe the guys who made that poster didn’t get the film themselves. Ben Stiller plays Walter Mitty, a negative assets manager at Life magazine, that’s undergoing a transition from print to online. He just can’t seem to find negative 25, that is supposed to go on the cover because it represents the “quintessence of life”. The adventurous photographer said he sent it but he just can’t find it and he’s on the verge of losing his job. So far, so good.
And then the second act kicks in, prompting him to go on an adventure — to track down and chase the mad photographer, to Greenland, then Iceland and then Afghanistan and Himalayas. Right from the first shot, we know Walter Mitty has very little savings, there is no way he can afford these trips. The motto of Life magazine appears line by line, in every shot he takes to board the flight to Greenland. Safe to assume, another flight of fancy. Every place he goes to strangely, is stuff that has made the headlines. Eyjafjallajökull, Afghanistan, Warlords, Airport Security Detention. In which case, he is not living. He is still dreaming. Contrary to what the posters suggest.
Hence, the film wants you to start living but uses a dreamy adventure that never happened to make its point. The guys who made the poster probably want you to believe that the adventure happened. But the clues in the film made by Stiller suggest otherwise. That it all happened in his head. Maybe he’s just another guy getting laid off, he never made the cover, he never got the girl... In which case, it’s a tragedy. But hey, Hollywood wants us to feel good. So why spell it out for the audience and make them feel bad! That doesn’t help to sell tickets.
Director: Ben Stiller
Cast: Ben Stiller, Sean Penn, Kristen Wiig
Storyline: A dreamy negative assets manager needs to find the missing negative meant for the cover of the last issue of Life magazine
Bottomline: This short story is a bit of a stretch here