Reality doesn't bite in "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"
My favorite moment in "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" is when Mitty (played by Ben Stiller) and an elusive photographer (played by Sean Penn) watch a rare snow leopard in the Himalayas. Penn's character explains to Mitty the beautiful snow leopard is often called the "ghost cat" because he is rarely seen. When Penn doesn't take a picture, Mitty asks why and Penn explains sometimes he just wants to be in the present.
"The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" reminds us to live in our own beautiful moments, in the reality of the present, in our own lives. We may never climb in the Himalayas and witness a rare snow leopard, but Walter Mitty takes us on a journey in this film -- both real and imagined -- to places we can go.
Mitty's daily life is so mundane he's become a daydreamer, prone to flights of fancy in his own mind. He sees an attractive woman, and becomes a superhero in his mind, rescuing her three-legged dog from a fire.
In reality, he is a negative assets manager for "Life" magazine, a ironic title that stirs up the imagination. He works in the bowels of the Time and Life Building, processing and cataloguing image negatives from "Life's" famous photographers.
Shortly after meeting a new "transition team" at work, Mitty is summoned to a floor meeting. Unpleasant human resource hit men-- the "transition team"-- tell the crowd of nervous employees the magazine has been acquired. Soon, "Life" will publish its last issue, and many of the employees will be let go.
Mitty has worked with the photographer Sean O'Donnell, who leaves Mitty some negatives for the last cover of "Life," what O'Donnell calls a "quintessential picture."
Mitty is distraught; the special negative is missing. What Mitty discovers about life in his search to find the missing negative is quintessentially positive. But, that would spoil the plot, the adventure and being in the moment.
Kristin Wiig plays Mitty's love interest, a single mom who works in the same department. And comedian Patton Oswald adds comic relief to this dark comedy as a representative of eHarmony, the dating site. How to updating the story to present day from a 1930s short story and a 1940s movie? Using eHarmony was a wonderful thread of today's new dating normal in the film was genius and works well to advance the story.
God love Shirley MacLaine. She gives a strong but small supporting performance as Edna Mitty, Walter's sweet mother. MacLaine was born in 1934, and whether her aged face is her own or enhanced, it is a joy for all aging women to see a superstar let herself be shown as an aging woman.
As the movie progresses, Mitty daydreams less and steps out of the clouds onto the solid ground of reality in some stunning, show stopping venues. Surely the Icelandic government has paid someone off. We're ready to leave for Iceland on our next trip, what a gorgeous place.
One particular scene has Mitty longboarding down a mountain road into a glorious valley that could be from "Lost Horizons," Capra's 1930s film about finding Shangri-La.
I recommend "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" , though I'm not sure it's Oscar-worthy with competition like "American Hustle" out the same week. It's a solid film with good casting, wonderful scenery, and all the knots are tied up neatly at the end.
Amy Abbott writes "The Raven Lunatic" column for multiple Indiana newspapers. She's the author of two books "The Luxury of Daydreams" and "A Piece of Her Mind." Her third book, "A Piece of Her Heart" will be published in 2014.