Gotta say, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is kind of a confusing picture, thematically speaking anyway. Sure most, if not all of the movie, is actually quite simple minded, and really rather pleasant overall in its apparent zest for life and praising of the general human spirit. Our protagonist makes a pretty big and satisfying change from the beginning of the movie to the end of it, there are some good jokes, some nice cinematography, so interesting casting choices, and in the end, it’s all kind of pleasant. So what the hell is confusing about?
Well first, you should know the basic story set up first. You see, this Walter Mitty guy (Ben Stiller, who also directed), he works in the bowels of LIFE magazine, and he is meek and put upon and spends an inordinate amount of time daydreaming about being someone different and doing exciting things, because you know his life sucks so much. He’s not even good at using eHarmony, which is an actual plot point of this story. But when he is faced with a mystery that requires solving, he breaks out of his shell to actually go solve it, following a handful of clues around the world.
And of course this is all grand and good and all that. Walter Mitty finally goes out and LIVES LIFE and good for him, right? He gets to see Iceland and Greenland and an active volcano and a shark and now he has all of these sweet stories to tell at parties and shit, so good for him, that’s what this movie is about, right?
Well hold on now, not necessarily. See, eHarmony really is a plot point in the movie, and so is Papa Johns pizza. And used as jokes at different points in the movie are Kentucky Fried Chicken, Cinnabon and the McDonalds “I’m lovin’ it” little theme song. And what this does is make the movie feel as ingenuous as possible, because on one hand they are telling us to life our lives and enjoy what it has to offer to us without fear or hesitation, and on the other hand this movie tells us that life has fast food restaurants to offer. And these are just the product placements that stuck out the most in this movie, but there were others, like Walter Mitty’s North Face hiking backpack, or the well placed Heineken sign hanging in the only bar in Nuuk, Iceland, or how this whole movie is kind of a commercial for LIFE magazine itself.
Hey, how about this? Time Warner, which Time Inc. is a part of, owns LIFE as well as New Line Cinema, which just happens to be one of this movie’s producing partners. Synergize much, Time Warner?
So which is it, Walter Mitty? Is life to be lived? Or do we sit back and enjoy the “iced heroin” of a cinnabon from Cinnabon? And it’s not like all of these real world brand names HAD to be used. This story could have easily been about a fictional magazine, and could have featured fictionalized fast food restaurants. When Walter Mitty sat down with a character for a meeting, did it really HAVE to be over cinnabons? What was the point of that inclusion exactly to the story? Oh, there WAS no point? You did took the corporations monies and featured their products so you could make your little life-affirming movie? That kinda makes me want to puke. That’s a really cynical way to make such a non-cynical film.
So yes, there is some confusion in this movie, and that is a bad thing, because what we have here is a film with a muddled message. Do I really want to drink your glass of water when I can see that you put just a little bit of sewage in there?