The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013 film)
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a 2013 American adventure comedy-drama film directed, co-produced by and starring Ben Stiller and written by Steve Conrad. The film also stars Kristen Wiig, Shirley MacLaine, Adam Scott, Kathryn Hahn, and Sean Penn.
|The Secret Life of Walter Mitty|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Ben Stiller|
|Screenplay by||Steve Conrad|
|Based on||The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
by James Thurber
|Edited by||Greg Hayden|
|Box office||$188.5 million|
This is the second film adaptation of James Thurber's 1939 short story The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. The film premiered at the New York Film Festival on October 5, 2013. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was theatrically released by 20th Century Fox, Samuel Goldwyn Films and New Line Cinema on December 25, 2013 in North America to generally mixed reception, but was a moderate box office success. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was released on DVD and Blu-ray on April 15, 2014 by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.
Walter Mitty is a negative assets manager at Life magazine who daydreams of adventures and has a crush on a coworker named Cheryl. Mitty works with photojournalist Sean O'Connell, whose images are highly regarded. O'Connell has sent Mitty his latest negatives and a wallet as a gift in appreciation of Mitty's work. O'Connell believes negative #25 captures the "quintessence of life" and that it should be used for the cover of the magazine's final print issue as it converts to online status. The negative is missing, however, and Walter is forced to stall for time with corporate transition manager Ted Hendricks, who is handling the downsizing. While viewing the other negatives outside Life's offices, Cheryl approaches Mitty and suggests that he think of the negatives as clues to Sean's location. They look at three of them, including one of a person's thumb with a unique ring on it, and another of a curved piece of wood. A third picture of a boat leads Mitty to determine that O'Connell is in Greenland. Mitty promptly flies there to find him.
A bartender in Nuuk explains that O'Connell left on a ship. To find him, Mitty would need to go on the postal helicopter, and the pilot is drunk. Mitty recognizes the pilot's thumb with the unique ring and realizes he is on the right track. He at first declines to fly with the intoxicated pilot, but imagines Cheryl singing "Space Oddity", gains a new confidence and boards the helicopter. Nearing the ship, Mitty learns the helicopter cannot land upon it. Misunderstanding the pilot, instead of jumping into a dinghy boat nearing to catch him, Mitty aims for the main vessel and misses and falls in the ocean. He splashes down into ice-cold, shark-infested waters, losing a box of ship-to-shore radio components before being brought aboard.
Mitty learns that O'Connell departed the ship earlier. The crew offers him some clementine cake O'Connell left behind; Mitty discovers O'Connell's destinations in the wrapping paper. The itinerary directs Mitty to Iceland, where O'Connell is photographing the volcano Eyjafjallajökull, and he arrives at the local village of Skógar near the volcano using a longboard, and notices O'Connell on the plane flying near the volcano. An eruption forces Mitty to flee, and as there is nothing left for him to do, he obeys a text message recalling him to New York.
For failing to recover the negative, his first failure in a long career with the magazine, Mitty is fired by Hendricks. He learns that Cheryl, who was let go earlier, seems to have reconciled with her estranged husband. Mitty returns home discouraged and visits his mother, throwing away the wallet he received from O'Connell. To his surprise, Mitty recognizes the curve of the piano in his mother's house while looking at the last photograph. When asked, Mitty's mom mentions having met O'Connell. She had told Mitty before but he was daydreaming and failed to hear her.
Mitty discovers O'Connell is in the Himalayas, and finds him photographing a rare snow leopard. When asked about the negative, O'Connell explains that the message on the gift wrapping to "look inside" was literal; the negative was in the wallet. Unfortunately, Mitty had interpreted this message as a direction to look inside the tissue paper in the box containing the wallet, and it could also be interpreted as referring to the inscription stamped into the leather inside the wallet. When pressed to reveal the image on the negative, O'Connell dismisses the question and joins in a high-altitude football (soccer) game with some locals. Mitty flies to Los Angeles but is detained by airport security during a misunderstanding (mainly stemming from his having traveled through Yemen to Afghanistan). Mitty calls the only person he knows in Los Angeles: Todd Maher, a representative at eHarmony who has kept in contact during Mitty's adventures.
While helping his mother sell her piano, Mitty recounts his story but mentions he does not have the wallet anymore. His mother says she always keeps his knickknacks and gives him the wallet that she retrieved from the trash. Finding inside the wallet a small manila envelope the size of a single-frame 35mm negative, an emboldened Mitty delivers it to Life magazine, tells management that it was the photograph O'Connell wanted for the final issue, and berates Hendricks for disrespecting the staff that made the magazine so honored before walking away from the office, humiliating him in front of his recently hired staff.
Mitty reunites with Cheryl, emboldens himself enough to tell her outright that he has been thinking about and inspired by her, and learns that Cheryl's ex-husband was only at her house to repair the refrigerator. Mitty tells Cheryl of his adventures and admits that he still does not know what negative #25 shows. Mitty and Cheryl see the final issue of Life at a newsstand, with its cover dedicated to the staff. It is accompanied by the photograph from negative #25, showing Mitty sitting outside of the Life building, examining a contact sheet. Mitty and Cheryl continue their walk down the street holding hands.
- Ben Stiller as Walter Mitty, a negative asset manager at Life
- Kristen Wiig as Cheryl Melhoff, Walter's love interest and co-worker
- Shirley MacLaine as Edna Mitty, Walter's mother
- Adam Scott as Ted Hendricks, Walter's boss
- Kathryn Hahn as Odessa Mitty, Walter's sister
- Patton Oswalt as Todd Maher, an eHarmony customer service representative
- Adrian Martinez as Hernando, Walter's understudy and co-worker
- Ólafur Darri Ólafsson as a Greenlandic helicopter pilot
- Sean Penn as Sean O'Connell, a photojournalist
- Jon Daly as Tim Naughton, one of Walter's co-workers
- Terence Bernie Hines as Gary Mannheim, one of Walter's co-workers
- Marcus Antturi as Rich Melhoff, Cheryl's son
- Kai Lennox as Phil Melhoff, Cheryl's ex-husband
- Conan O'Brien as himself
- Andy Richter as himself
- Joey Slotnick as a retirement home administrator
Producer Samuel Goldwyn, Jr., whose father produced the 1947 film adaptation, conceived the idea of doing a remake in 1994 with Jim Carrey in mind for the title role. Walt Disney Pictures was enthusiastic to purchase the remake rights, but Goldwyn instead chose New Line Cinema, which held a positive working relationship with Carrey on Dumb and Dumber and The Mask (both 1994). The studio bought the rights in 1995 with the understanding that The Samuel Goldwyn Company would be involved in creative decisions. Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz turned in the first draft of the screenplay in July 1997. Ron Howard entered negotiations to direct the same month, and to cover producing duties with Brian Grazer and Imagine Entertainment. Howard and Imagine Entertainment eventually left the project in favor of EDtv, and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty languished in development hell over the challenges of using a contemporary storyline.
In May 1999, New Line hired The Mask director Chuck Russell to rewrite the script and serve as Howard's replacement. Filming was set to begin in early 2000, but was pushed back. Around this time, Peter Tolan worked on rewrites. In May 2001, Goldwyn filed a lawsuit against New Line for breach of contract. Goldwyn claimed that the studio extended their 1995 deal until May 2001, but then announced that it wanted to transfer the rights for the remake to another company and have Goldwyn surrender his creative input. In November 2002, New Line was forced to revert the film rights back to Goldwyn, who won his lawsuit and took the property to Paramount Pictures. During pre-production discussions between Paramount and DreamWorks on Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (which starred Carrey), Steven Spielberg, head of DreamWorks, rekindled interest in working with Carrey; the duo previously considered Meet the Parents, but the outing fell apart. In May 2003, Spielberg agreed to direct, and brought in DreamWorks to co-finance The Secret Life of Walter Mitty with Paramount (which would acquire DreamWorks in 2006).
By November, Zach Helm was rewriting the script, but Spielberg and DreamWorks vacated the film in April 2004 in favor of War of the Worlds and Munich. "The goal is to go back to the short story and capture not only the content but the original spirit," producer John Goldwyn (son of Samuel) told The Hollywood Reporter. Screenwriter Richard LaGravenese entered discussion to write a new script following Spielberg's departure. Sam Goldwyn commented that LaGravenese's script had a momentous and unique approach compared to others. "I'd always felt that unless we got a great script, the movie disintegrates into a series of wonderful gags," Goldwyn explained. "Writers always fixated on that. [Richard] worked for 10 months on umpteen drafts, and he solved it." In March 2005, Paramount hired Mark Waters to direct LaGravenese's script for Walter Mitty, but Carrey had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts. He was soon replaced by Owen Wilson.
Despite not having a final budget, Paramount scheduled a December 12, 2005 start date because their option on the remake rights was to end one week later; they would lose the rights if they did not start filming before December 20. Wilson dropped out in October 2005 over creative differences. The Hollywood Reporter also speculated that Walter Mitty began to falter after Paramount failed to cast a female lead to star opposite Wilson. Scarlett Johansson had reportedly emerged as the front-runner after screen testing with Wilson earlier in October, but a deal was never signed with the actress. Paramount executives Brad Grey and Gail Berman decided to put Walter Mitty in turnaround in November 2005. Goldwyn found favor at 20th Century Fox and, in May 2007, it was announced that Mike Myers was attached to star in the title role. Jay Kogen was hired to write a new script that would be specifically tailored for Myers.
In April 2010, Sacha Baron Cohen was offered and accepted the lead role. Later that month, The Pursuit of Happyness writer Steven Conrad was hired to pen the screenplay, with Gore Verbinski announced as director in June 2010.
In April 2011, it was announced that Ben Stiller had been cast in the lead role, though no director was attached. The following July, it was announced that Stiller was also due to direct the film.
In January 2012, it was announced that Kristen Wiig would play the female lead, with Shirley MacLaine attached to play the mother of Ben Stiller's character. This was followed by reports in February that Patton Oswalt and Adam Scott joined the film. In April 2012, Kathryn Hahn was cast as Odessa, Walter's sister, and Josh Charles was cast as the ex-husband of Kristen Wiig's character, though he was replaced by Kai Lennox. Later that month, Sean Penn was cast in what was described as a "small but pivotal supporting role" as photojournalist Sean O'Connell.
The portions of the film set in Nuuk, Greenland, were in fact shot in Stykkishólmur, a village on the Snæfellsnes peninsula in Iceland, and Höfn, a village in southeast Iceland. Later sequences set in Stykkishólmur were actually filmed in Seyðisfjörður. The sequences where Walter Mitty follows Sean to Afghanistan were also filmed in Iceland, at the Skogafoss waterfall and in Vatnajökull National Park.
When Ben Stiller's character lands at Nuuk in Greenland, he asks the man in the airport booth: "Do you have any cars available?" "Yeah, we have a blue one and a red one", the man replies. "I'll take the red one", says Walter. "The choice between the red and blue car at the rental car lot is worthy of mention, if only because it almost candidly pulls the idea from the red pill of The Matrix. Two jelly bean, or pill, shaped cars [Daewoo Matiz], red and blue; the only thing missing is Lawrence Fishburne [sic] working the counter". "The passage connecting reality to illusion is often visualised using tangible things and physical environments [as] Neo took the red pill in The Matrix."
In April 2013, nearly 20 minutes of footage was presented by Fox at CinemaCon in Las Vegas followed by a theatrical trailer release in July, both of which began to spark awards speculation. The trailer features a short segment of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody". The song is not used in the film.
The film made its world premiere as the Centerpiece Gala presentation at the New York Film Festival on October 5, 2013. It was also selected to serve as the Centerpiece Gala presentation at the 2013 AFI Film Festival.
20th Century Fox hired filmmaker Casey Neistat to make a promotional video based on the theme of "live your dreams" but Neistat suggested instead to spend the budget on bringing disaster relief to the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan. Fox agreed and gave him a budget of $25,000.
The film received polarized reviews from critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 51% based on reviews from 182 critics, with an average rating of 6/10. The site's consensus reads: "It doesn't lack for ambition, but The Secret Life of Walter Mitty fails to back up its grand designs with enough substance to anchor the spectacle." Metacritic gives the film a normalized score of 54/100 based on reviews from 39 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film a B+ rating. Peter Debruge of Variety magazine criticized the film for lacking the satirical tone of the original story, comparing the film to "a feature-length 'Just Do It' ad" for the middle-aged audience the film is targeting. Debruge notes that the script downplays the comedy, and that a scene inspired by The Curious Case of Benjamin Button shows the film could have been made funnier, but that the more serious emotional dimension ultimately makes the film feel more substantial. The film had its share of admirers, however. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave the film a positive review, saying "In his uniquely funny and unexpectedly tender movie, Stiller takes us on a personal journey of lingering resonance." Joe Neumaier of New York Daily awarded the film five out of five stars, saying "The story Stiller tells manages to float in a most peculiar, satisfying way." Political radio show host and film critic Michael Medved was also positive concerning the film, calling it "one of the feel-good movies of the year." The film was criticized for the product placement of several brands which featured prominently in the storyline, including Papa Johns, eHarmony, Time-Life and Cinnabon.
In 2016, Rolling Stone magazine asked readers to choose their top 10 Ben Stiller movies. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty came in at number 3 as his third best film ever.
|List of awards and nominations|
|Award/Film festival||Date of ceremony||Category||Recipients and nominees||Result|
|National Board of Review||December 4, 2013||Top Ten Films||The Secret Life of Walter Mitty||Won|
|Satellite Awards||February 23, 2014||Best Cinematography||Stuart Dryburgh||Nominated|
|Best Original Score||Theodore Shapiro||Nominated|
|Location Managers Guild Awards||March 29, 2014||Outstanding Location Feature Film||The Secret Life of Walter Mitty||Won|
|Costume Designers Guild Awards||February 22, 2014||Excellence In Contemporary Film||Sarah Edwards||Nominated|
|Saturn Awards||June, 2014||Saturn Award for Best Fantasy Film||The Secret Life of Walter Mitty||Nominated|
|Saturn Award for Best Actor||Ben Stiller||Nominated|
|Key Art Awards||October, 2013||Best Audio Visual Technique||The Secret Life of Walter Mitty||Won|
|New York Film Festival||2013||Best Film||Nominated|
|Visual Effects Society Awards||February 14, 2014||Outstanding Supporting Effects in a Feature Motion Picture||Guillaume Rocheron, Kurt Williams, Monette Dubin, and Ivan Moran||Nominated|
- Maneater - Performed by Grace Mitchell
- Escape (The Piña Colada Song) - Written by Rupert Holmes
- Wake Up - Performed by Arcade Fire
- Don't You Want Me - Written by Phil Oakey, Philip Adrian Wright (as Philip Wright), and Jo Callis
- Far Away - Performed by José González
- Far Away - Performed by Junip
- Space Oddity - Performed by David Bowie and Kristen Wiig (uncredited)
- Lake Michigan - Performed by Rogue Wave
- Dirty Paws - Performed by Of Monsters and Men
- The Wolves and the Ravens - Performed by Rogue Valley
- Stay Alive - Performed by José González
- Step Out - Performed by José González
- Don't Let It Pass - Performed by Junip
- Escape (The Piña Colada Song) - Performed by Jack Johnson
- Dream - Performed by José González
The song "Space Oddity" by David Bowie plays a significant role throughout the film. Walter Mitty is referred to mockingly as "Major Tom" by his new boss, Hendricks, in reference to the astronaut Major Tom in "Space Oddity", due to his frequent daydreaming: the boss interprets the line "ground control to Major Tom" as akin to "Earth to Walter; come in Walter". Cheryl later tells Walter that Hendricks misunderstands the song, as "it’s about courage and venturing into the unknown".
The song is featured in a crucial scene in which Mitty decides to leap onto a helicopter after imagining Cheryl singing the song. Director Ben Stiller has talked about the importance of "Space Oddity" in that scene during an interview in which he said that, "I felt like the way it fits into the story, we got to this point and this scene which was sort of how the fantasy and reality come together for Walter, and that was what that came out of. That song, and what he mentioned in his head, and what he imagines and what he does, it all just seemed to come together over that song."
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