Fanboy Flick Pick: Ben Stiller Dreams Big, Ironically Misses the Point of Walter Mitty

By Luke Y. Thompson in Books, Movies
Friday, December 20, 2013 at 11:30 am

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Stiller has frequently come of as narcissistic onscreen - he either revels in it and plays it broadly, as in Dodgeball or Zoolander, or plays the nice-guy nerd who is most clearly the only sane person onscreen. In real life, Stiller is a smallish guy who works out like a fiend - his physique, occasionally glimpsed on film, is pretty well sculpted, and it's like he can't resist winking to the audience sometimes as if to say, "Look, I'm playing a nerd, but we all know I'm not, right? I'm more awesome than that."

And that's fair enough...but it's not Walter Mitty. The original story ends with Mitty imagining himself facing a firing squad...I won't tell you how this one ends, but as you can probably guess by now, it ain't that.

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If the movie were retitled Ben Stiller Is Secretly Way More Awesome Than You, I'd probably have less of an issue. Mitty's not even the most interesting character in the film - Penn's action photographer would be a much more compelling guy to globetrot with, and the actor seems at his most relaxed in ages inhabiting the role. Wiig is sweetly nice, and a refreshingly real, somewhat age-appropriate beauty for Mitty to woo. And Patton Oswalt's customer service representative for a dating site could easily have his own movie, and I'd watch it - after Young Adult, I know he can make that kind of mundaneness fascinating. Hell, he'd have been the perfect Mitty, really - what was Big Fan if not a rehearsal for something more like this?

By my count, Stiller has now directed exactly one movie I've liked without reservation - Tropic Thunder, in which he actually let his costars steal the show. The rest - The Cable Guy, Reality Bites, Zoolander et al - tend to start off with great ideas and blow it by the end. Ironically, that's more like something the actual Walter Mitty would do than anything in this movie.

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