The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Dec 24, 2013

A gentle romance inspired by a great writer from Columbus, Ohio

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Grade: B

Director: Ben Stiller

Screenplay: Steve Conrad (The Pursuit of Happyness), based on James Thurber short story

Cast: Ben Stiller (Night at the Museum), Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids)

Rating: PG

Runtime: 114 min.

by John DeSando

“Life is about courage and going into the unknown.”  Cheryl (Kristen Wiig)

Forget Bridesmaids and Hangovers, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a comic romance for everyone that eschews raunchiness for real life challenges a dweeb named Walter (Ben Stiller) faces daily. He is everyman, a dreamer who gently supplants his daily dreaming with real life romance.

The first part of the film loosely adapts James Thurber’s short story in which the now famous introvert dreams of various heroic adventures, mostly as he tries to impress his co-worker Cheryl. The latter part of the film concerns his real adventures tracking down a famous but reclusive photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn). Director Stiller plays it low key while he gently shapes the passive hero into an active one. The director calmly moves into a reality more exciting than Mitty’s dreams.

The multifaceted film, however, loads on the schmaltz and one-dimensional characters while it also touches on the curse of downsizing, using the demise of Life magazine as a setting for the loss of jobs, which Walter experiences. Yet,

Mitty is loveable enough for the audience to hope this formerly introverted dork can save himself from unemployment and loneliness.

The entire family can enjoy a spirited albeit superficial comedy without scatological or romantic excess.  And the lesson about living the dream comes gently and believably.  An enjoyable comedy this is.  

"To see things thousands of miles away, things hidden behind walls and within rooms, things dangerous to come to...." Life Magazine motto

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, is also co-host of WCBE’s Cinema Classics. Contact him at