Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) lives a routine existence. That same existence can be stilted by his tendency to “zone out” while having fantasies about work and a young woman he finds attractive. But one day, his job and any opportunity to see the young woman—even from a distance—are threatened. How will Walter Mitty react?
Walter processes the negatives for Life magazine, but finds out the print magazine will be cancelled: this will be the last issue. All he has to do is process negative #25 from the adventure photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn) for the last cover. But that negative is missing. What will he do?
As it turns out, Cheryl (Kristen Wiig), the woman he finds attractive, is in the billing department and might help him find O’Connell’s most recent address. He begins a series of natural conversations with her, and we’re cheered he seems to be retreating into his fantasies less often—but he still has a superhero/villain one involving the guy who will fire him if he doesn’t find the negative. With Cheryl’s help, Walter figures out O’Connell might be in Greenland.
Cheryl suggests Walter go find out. It’s not clear if she’s serious or not. But Walter has everything on the line—the negative, the need to give Life a good sendoff, his job, gaining a good standing in Cheryl’s eyes. He sets out.
What follows is an odyssey a routine person could never dream of. It involves flying with a drunken helicopter pilot, skateboarding in Iceland, and climbing high mountains. The scenery is breathtaking, and Walter’s ability to push himself beyond his wildest hopes and fears is something to cheer. Will he find the negative, keep his job, and impress Cheryl?
Ben Stiller puts in a picture-perfect performance as an everyman who hurtles out of his comfort zone, experiencing highs and lows in parts of the world he knew nothing of. Kristen Wiig is likable (which Stiller said was a quality they needed in that role), so we don’t tire of seeing her in the real scenes and in Walter’s improbable fantasies. And Sean Penn looks unmovable as a mountain as he waits for the perfect shot.
photo by Jiyang Chen
Ben Stiller has somehow become a master director. He knows how to put together thrilling spectacles, showcasing them from a human perspective. Usually he’s been viewed as an actor who is so stupid, people laugh at him. But that was his comic genius: as long as people laughed, he succeeded. Now he’s put together a magnificent paean to the human spirit, and as this interview details, to the older art of moviemaking.