I wasn’t holding out much hope for this one. Like anyone with a brain and a distinct fear of transforming from an adventurous roustabout into an office drone, I have a deep appreciation for the work of James Thurber (not to mention Danny Kaye, who starred in the original adaptation), and when the trailer hit, it looked like Ben Stiller’s take would be much more of a saga instead of a few simple flights from banality.
And while Stiller’s Walter Mitty departs halfway from flights of fancy, the first half is a delight. Mitty is a negative assets manager at Life Magazine – negative assets as in he’s the guy who handles photo negatives, and Life Magazine as in the periodical that Gestapo agents read when they’re tailing Indiana Jones and which, specifically in this flick, is in the process of becoming a purely online publication.
Mitty’s tasked with developing the final cover’s image, which has been misplaced, and which causes the sleazy consultant handling the transition (Adam Scott, in a wickedly dorky beard) to breathe stertorously down his neck.
In addition to that, Mitty’s currently engaged in setting up his eHarmony profile despite having gone nowhere and done nothing, diminishing his chances of attracting the pretty new hire (Kirsten Wiig). Helping him is Todd (a voice that may be recognizable, but whose identity is one of the best reveals, jokes, and sequences in the film), an overly dedicated eHarmony assistant.
The film has a fantastic start, as all the major performers – Stiller, Wiig, and Scott – come from the background of exploiting social awkwardness and revel in creating a facade of meekness in their characters, a meekness that barely veils the passions behind it. Scott in particular, is so good at each little passive-aggressive dig (I especially liked the progression of how he says “guy”: first cloying, then annoyed, then furious). And, thankfully, not all of Mitty’s daydreams are treated as immature revenge fantasies or love-struck dalliances. One sequence in particular gets very creative as Stiller and Scott battle over a Stretch Armstrong doll throughout the streets of New York, using the roads as skis and whatever else as improvised weapons.