ImageWe all have moments where our mind drifts away from the mundane moments that encompass our everyday lives. In our daydreams we imagine what our life would be like if it wasn’t so ordinary. Nobody experiences this quite like Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller). He works for Life magazine, managing the negative film prints that photographers send in. He has never travelled anywhere (except Phoenix) and he has never done anything noteworthy or mentionable. The only excitement in his life is when he zones out and imagines that his life is grander than it actually is. He imagines climbing mountains, saving animals from exploding buildings and throwing his boss out of a high-rise window. But this is all just fantasy and in reality, he is too shy to talk to Cheryl (Kristen Wiig), the woman at work that he has a crush on.

One morning, Walter arrives at work and overhears that Life magazine is publishing its final issue and moving entirely online. For the final issue, they have received a set of negative prints from elusive photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn). In a letter that he sent in with the prints, O’Connell suggests that they use negative number 25 for the cover because it captures the quintessence of life more than any other photo he has taken. Unfortunately, Walter discovers that negative number 25 is missing. Realizing that this could be his chance to have a real life adventure, Walter embarks on a journey to find the location of O’Connell and the missing film print.

This is the basic setup for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, a film that thinks it is full of ideas, but also wants to make its audience laugh quite a bit. Director Ben Stiller’s last three films were comedies and, at times, it appears that he wants to make Walter Mitty a comedy as well. But then there are other scenes in the film that feel like they are meant to be taken seriously. The film’s tonal inconsistency is apparent from beginning to end and the transitions that should merge the comedy and the drama together very rarely work.

Despite being tonally inconsistent, there are quite a few scenes that still manage to work. One of the most effective is a reoccurring joke throughout the film involving Walter discussing his list of accomplishments with a customer service representative from eHarmony named Todd (Patton Oswalt). Walter gets several calls from him throughout the film and, in each call he has another incredible event to explain to Todd. It’s a joke that garners more laughs with each call and also has a pleasant ending to it. But mixed in with this are scenes of humor that feel far too goofy for what the film is trying to accomplish, such as an airport pat down gone wrong, as seen through an X-Ray scanner.

Even though Stiller’s direction and the script by Steve Conrad feel scattershot, the one thing that the film is consistent on is its overall sweetness. This is a charming movie that sets out to make the audience feel good and it mostly succeeds at this. The romance that develops between Walter and Cheryl is particularly warmhearted, despite Cheryl feeling like a fairly one-dimensional character. Along with the sweetness is some great looking cinematography by Stuart Dryburgh and these two things help the film move along at a brisk pace.

There are a few examples of lazy writing in the film’s third act that tie up some of the story’s loose ends, but these are forgettable by its conclusion. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty ends on such a positive note that even cynical audience members will leave the theater feeling uplifted. Walter learns that life is an amazing thing that must be lived, but he also learns an even more essential message: sometimes the smallest moments in life are the most important.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty receives 2.5/4

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