For a while now, Ben Stiller has been growing on me. He's not a superb actor or first-class director, but there's obviously more to him that the quick and simple comedies he's usually known for. His previous directorial effort (Tropic Thunder) was one of the better American comedies of the past few years, which was all I needed to know when I went out to watch The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
If you see people comparing this film to Forest Gump, it's because there aren't too many other feel-good films featuring a simpleton going out into the world and meeting up with a cast of strange people. That's where the comparison ends though, as Stiller manages to make a film with a character of its own. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a film that lives in a unique universe, not really bound to genres or conventions, though not too out there or alienating as to turn away the big crowds.
During the first part of the film Stiller's outlandish daydreams take center stage. They provide a fair few laughs, making it pretty easy to get into the flow of the film. Once Stiller starts his journey the daydreams lose importance and are replaced by some pleasant oddballs he meets along the way. The switch is a little sudden and while the comedy remains, the absurdity of the first hour never really returns. The film takes a small hit right there, but recovers quickly.
Stiller puts in a great performance, as does Adam Scott (the perfect bad guy you'll love to hate). Even though the film doesn't make any serious missteps, I did feel Stiller doesn't cash in on the film's full potential. His solutions and choices may work well enough within the context of the film, I still felt that at some points he should've taken a few more risks (the last scene for example, did we really need to see the photograph?). Nothing serious though, there's plenty to like here, there are no false notes and a few very neat touches that make this one of the most original films I've seen coming out of Hollywood for quite some time.