‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’: The Reviews Are In

Ben Stiller's latest gets a mixed reception from critics.

Can you keep a secret?

Critics certainly can’t, as they’re already buzzing about “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” directed by and starring Ben Stiller.

The movie is based on the famous 1939 short story by James Thurber about a man with a boring life who daydreams about the most fantastical things. The story spawned a film adaptation in 1947 starring Danny Kaye, and this latest adaptation had been in production hell before Stiller could finally bring it to life again.

Stiller’s “Mitty” mixes the real with the fantastical, as the titular character decides to actually do something with his dreams and sets out to see the world. He’s joined along the way by Kristen Wiig as the girl of his dreams, Adam Scott as his bullying co-worker and a great supporting cast including Kathryn Hahn, Shirley MacLaine and Sean Penn.

Is Stiller’s “Secret Life” a success, or should he have kept it to himself? Critics weigh in on the film, which opens Christmas Day.

Slick Filmmaking Helps Tie It Together

“From a technical perspective, this is Stiller’s slickest pic yet, demonstrating creative widescreen framing and an inspired blend of dramatic score and recent pop tunes throughout. While the confusing mix of genres and ideas might throw first-wave auds for a loop, the approach is timeless enough to hold up.” — Peter Debruge, Variety

Stiller Gives Worthy Performance

“Doubling as director and lead actor, Stiller imbues the character with the profound yearning and gnawing frustration of a man hijacked by melancholy circumstance from being a cool kid in his youth to a meek drone in adult life. His dazed confusion as to how that happened gives heart to the understated performance.” — David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter

Too Much Longing, Not Enough Fun

“The result may be the oddest film of the season. It boasts an array of sublime backdrops and a yearning score, but the climate of feeling is anxious and inward, encapsulated in Stiller’s darting gaze, and the movie itself keeps glancing backward, at the lost and the obsolete. Walter works at ‘Life,’ which is closing down and preparing its farewell issue. His grail, as he hops the globe, is a single negative from a strip of 35-mm. film. This air of elegy infects the story and sucks the fun out of it. It kills a beautiful idea and leaves no trace.” — Anthony Lane, The New Yorker

Good Intentions Count For Something

“The film is at its best when played as goofy comedy (there’s a great Benjamin Button-style moment when we see Stiller as an elderly baby). The later, country-hopping scenes feel like flicking through an old copy of ‘National Geographic’ only to find Sean Penn (playing the mysterious photographer who snapped the missing shot) lurking in its pages as the paragon of outsider authenticity. Cloying at times — but always good-natured.” — Dave Calhoun, Time Out New York

A Mixed Bag

“Stiller, who directs and stars in ‘Mitty,’ has loosely based his film on the story and given it a contemporary setting. But by trying to combine fantasy and romance with goofy humor, globe-trotting adventure and feel-good inspiration, Stiller has made ‘Mitty’ a mixed bag of clashing tones and facile redemption.” — Claudia Puig, USA Today