This film is odd. I can’t decide what it’s supposed to be.
Is it some sort of ad for Life Magazine? Because there’s certainly enough unabashed celebration of the already very self-important publication in `The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty,’ and ads certainly feel longer and more obnoxious every time I go to a theatre. I wouldn’t put it past Life to just fish out blindly to have Hollywood spew out a two-hour promo video and have it shown across the world. I was half-expecting a title card to come up after the end of the film saying “And now, since we’re done with all the advertising, it’s time for our feature!”
And oh boy, is there ever advertising in ‘Secret Life.’ Not just for Life, but for Papa John’s, eHarmony, Cinnabon, Air Greenland, McDonalds and countless others. And they aren’t just product placements; statements about the quality of the products are shamelessly worked into the script. A major plot point of the film revolves around Papa John’s, and Patton Oswalt actually compares a Cinnabon to heroin. They’re just that fucking good. I guess if the film is supposed to contain some sort of statement about how corporations completely saturate our society, then that’s cool, I suppose. God knows no one’s ever made a film about that before.
Maybe in that way, ‘The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty’ could be a ballad for the unsung heroes of Generation X, toiling as they do in near-anonymity while their dreams are whittled away into nothing, or bottled and sold as products to be consumed by insufferable, idiotic Millennials such as myself. My generation is represented in the film by the laughable-for-all-the-wrong-reasons Adam Scott, who seems to be trying his damndest to ensure absolutely everybody in the world will loathe that stuttering, post-modernist improv banter that’s already been done to death by Seth Rogen and Will Ferrell in every movie they’re ever in, and Kathryn Hahn, who struggles valiantly to turn her clichéd artsy freeloading goofball into a believable (or at least entertaining) character, but to no avail. Both Scott and Hahn’s roles are such ineptly sketched-out straw men that I’m inclined to believe they’re supposed to be some sort of meta-joke.
At its simplest, ‘Secret Life’ is a travel movie, showcasing with competent, tasteful but ultimately unimaginative cinematography the colour-coded layers of modern New York and the primal, rustic backwoods of Iceland, but once again, the comically caricatured natives Ben Stiller’s titular photo editor encounters in both locales leads one to believe that the film is less paean and more parody, with about as much basis in reality as Mitty’s delusional episodes (which are by the way insanely obnoxious and masturbatory). We’re pretty much asked to believe Adrian Martinez’s character is a living, thinking human being because he owns a fern and hugs people, while Ólafur Darri Ólafsson explains his entire character with one non-sequitur about infidelity (and while I’m sure he thinks his American accent will get him work in the States, it’s just confusing to most people. What would a drunk American helicopter pilot be doing singing karaoke in Greenland? I don’t know. Do you?)
Normally, I wouldn’t fault a movie for whimsy and unbelievability, but `Secret Life’ seems to be trying so hard to be earthy and real. The dialogue is relatively honest and adequate in a cutesy-wutesy-widdle kind of way, and the characters all have several outrageously unsubtle details and idiosyncrasies that seem to indicate a desire for realism.
But realistic for whom? Which leads me to my next question: who is `Secret Life’ supposed to be for? The young children who might be the only age group entertained by its wafer-thin story and asinine characters? The aforementioned Gen-Xers who are still looking for a reason to live? They won’t fucking find it here, that’s for sure. People who really want to go to Iceland, but don’t have the money? There are other films shot in Iceland that are far more nature porn than this is, and some of them even have a decent plot.
No, I’m pretty sure ‘The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty’ exists solely because Ben Stiller wanted to go to Iceland. I’m sorry, I know it’s an easy shot, and probably the one I’m expected to make, but I seriously can’t come to any other conclusion. Because any attempt to rationalise this shallow, narcissistic septic tank of a film by daring to claim it has any artistic merit at all would be a crime against man, nature and the universe. Never, ever watch this film, ever.