I think The Secret Life of Walter Mitty wants to be Forrest Gump. It wants to capitalize on my generation’s acceptance of the fact that we are no longer young, fearless and out to conquer an ever-changing world that we kind of wish would slow down a bit.
The problem is Mitty doesn’t want to admit it’s Forrest. It wants to be cooler and more removed and play Arcade Fire songs in the background of beautiful, exotic vistas. It wants to be the Forrest Gump for the Pulp Fiction generation. And the problem is, those two things don’t work together. Gump is merely the re-packaging of all things boomer to bring a tear to that generation’s eyes. Pulp Fiction was the movie that jumped up and stomped on that sentimentality, re-appropriating the best of the past to make it new and vital again. And being unable to bridge that impossible divide is what hurts Mitty the most.
The good? The relationship between Walter (Ben Stiller) and Cheryl (Kristen Wiig) is incredibly well done. It never feels forced, rushed or convenient to the plot. It develops naturally, two people starting to learn about each other and feeling better about the other the more they hear. And it doesn’t come together with a bang, some big, significant kiss at some supremely romantic time or a wild roll in the hay that signifies the deal has been sealed. No, Mitty is happy, content, feeling as good about himself as he ever has, and the woman he loves appears to care about him, too. So he holds her hand. And she smiles. I’m not a romantic dude by any means, but this may be one of the most genuine, loving moments I’ve ever seen in a film.
Unfortunately, it’s not enough to save Mitty from its poor pacing or sentimentality. But it does make it worth a viewing if you’re looking for something mildly humorous and unchallenging.