Tuesday, November 25, 2014
I had a moment of deja vu about 10 minutes into this story. Had I seen this before? Or had I just seen one of those maddeningly long previews that makes watching the real movie seem pointless? At first I stuck it out just to make sure I hadn't in fact seen it. Then I stuck with it to see how it ended.
Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) is the guy at Life magazine who manages the negatives taken by the magazine's globe-trotting photographers. But he seems to have lost track of a negative, from one of their most famous shooters, that would be perfect for the cover of their last print issue before it goes online. Partly to impress a coworker he's infatuated with (Kristen Wiig), perhaps partly to convince himself he's not the milquetoast dreamer that everyone thinks he is, Walter decides to go in search of the photographer and the missing negative.
Walter's quest leads him on a hike across Greenland, a terrifying helicopter ride out to sea, a plunge into icy, shark-infested waters ... and that's just the start. Along the way, he encounters beautiful vistas, quirky characters, and magical moments. It's a travelogue worthy of Life magazine itself.
Ben Stiller is something of an acquired taste that I mostly haven't acquired. But hapless, good-hearted Walter is a perfect fit for him. Stiller is the master of the vacant, day-dreaming stare, and the wide-eyed look of amazement as he surprises himself with a sudden burst of take-charge action.
Alas, Kristen Wiig as Walter's love interest, Cheryl, isn't given much to do. Neither is Shirley MacLaine, in a cameo-sized role as Walter's eccentric mother. It's really Walter's story, and you do want to see this self-effacing guy succeed.
In the final few minutes, you can be forgiven for fearing that the story is going to end with a whimper as Walter returns to finish up his job at the magazine. But there's a satisfying conclusion to the mystery of the missing negative, and it's worth watching the whole thing for the closing shots of Walter in a final moment of self-discovery.