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Entries in patton oswalt (2)

Tuesday
Dec242013

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

It’s hard to watch a movie with a lot of pretense. When you watch one that has really fooled itself into thinking it’s something special when you know full well that it’s not, it brings forth a peculiar kind of embarrassment. You start to feel bad for the filmmakers because their expected feedback is not going to match the feedback they actually receive. Such is the case with Ben Stiller’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” an adaptation of James Thurber’s 1939 short story of the same name (which was previously adapted to film in 1947 with better results). It’s still a movie that is easy to enjoy, but it’s far from the poignant tale Stiller undoubtedly wanted to tell.

The film follows our titular protagonist, Walter Mitty (Stiller), a man who lives many different lives: the one that is real and the ones in his head. He’s a fantasizer and is known to zone out at random points in his days, heading off on grand adventures that allow him to life and feel how he wants to. In real life, his day-to-day is decidedly humdrum working as a negative asset manager for Life magazine that the new management is going to turn into an online exclusive publication. This means many folks are going to be losing their jobs, though they don’t know who. His job is already up in the air, but when he can’t find one photo that renowned photographer, Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn), sends in, the one he claims is the absolute best photo he’s ever taken and should be the cover for the final issue, Walter decides to take action. He doesn’t know where Sean is, but he nevertheless hops on a plane and follows his only lead to find him.

Of course, in true Hollywood storytelling fashion, his motivation stems not from his desire to keep his job, but from his pretty co-worker crush, Cheryl (Kristen Wiig), who urges him to become more adventurous. Their relationship is smooth and easy to watch, if a bit frustrating. Cheryl clearly has an affection for Walter, so his timidity comes off as forced, which is a criticism that is indicative of the film as a whole. The film isn’t as funny as it thinks it is nor as imaginative as it wants to be, as laughs come infrequently and the imagination on display fails to captivate.

Nevertheless, part of the fun of the film comes from the mind game it plays: are these grand adventures we’re witnessing real or are they simply something that is playing out in Walter’s mind? When Walter brings home a longboard he got in Iceland to give to Cheryl’s kid, is there a chance that it’s really just something he bought down the street at a local skate shop? The problem is that if it’s real, it’s a bit bland and if it’s in his head, it’s lacking the excitement and imagination that was so prevalent in the film’s opening moments.

“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” has an inspiring message of living your life and simply going for it, whatever that “it” may be, but it’s surprisingly thin for a movie so singularly focused on it. Furthermore, the blatant product placement does everything it can to obscure that message. When Walter calls Cheryl from Iceland and he tells her he’s in a Papa John’s, she doesn’t express her disbelief that he actually took the initiative to do something spontaneous. She just talks about her amazement that they have a Papa John’s in Iceland. “They have those there?” she says. Moments like these are distracting and insulting inclusions that detract a significant amount of charm from the overall product.

But even with all the complaints, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” isn’t a bad movie. It’s merely a lackluster one, one that receives more criticisms than praises only because the final result is such a letdown from the promising idea. It still has a good amount of heart to it, particularly from the delightful Wiig who somehow manages to create an interesting and empathetic character out of thin material, but “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is just missing that extra, unexplainable quality that real special movies have.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty receives 3/5

Friday
Dec162011

Young Adult

When director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody teamed up in 2007 for Juno, they struck gold. All of a sudden, their small independent movie was seeing a wide release and garnering a number of award nominations, including a nod for Best Picture at the Oscars. Since then, Reitman has directed the wonderful Up in the Air, another terrific movie that, similar to Juno, was met with critical acclaim and awards nominations. Cody, on the other hand, moved onto Jennifer’s Body, a lackluster (if even a bit underrated) horror comedy that tried far too hard to capture that Juno magic. Now she is back with a new script and working with the director that made her somebody. The end result is Young Adult, an occasionally funny, sometimes clever, but all around mediocre vehicle for Charlize Theron in the most unlikable role she’s ever been in. And she was in Monster. Think about that.

In the film, Theron plays Mavis Gary, a writer who is in the process of writing the last book in a popular young adult series. Her draft is due soon, but she has barely begun to write it. This is due to her infatuation with an old fling, Buddy Slade, played by Patrick Wilson. The problem is he’s married and he’s about to have a baby. She knows this thanks to the invitation she was sent to join him and his wife in their celebration, but she doesn’t care. She plans on breaking them up and taking him for herself.

Mavis is a terrible person. There’s no getting around it. Some may argue that as one of the film’s strengths. Some will see deep meaning in her actions and words. They’ll see some statement on humanity and desperation, but they’ll be reaching. Not all movies have likable characters, but those movies don’t necessarily try to make you like them. Young Adult does. You’re supposed to laugh at her excess, her rudeness, her vulgarity, but it’s very hard to do so. She is trying to break up a perfectly happy marriage, one where a kid is on the way, for her own selfish gain. She has one friend in the small town she grew up in, Matt, played by Patton Oswalt, who she treats terribly, despite the fact that years ago he was brutally beaten and left to die by a group of people who just happened to think he was gay. She’s also a hypocrite, telling Matt at one point to stop living in the past and dwelling on his terrible event, despite the entire fact that she’s back in her hometown solely because she wants so badly to be with her high school boyfriend, unable to follow her own advice.

Young Adult may send mixed messages about how we are supposed to approach this character, but it does show hints of intelligence. Mavis, as terrible as she is, is hard to take seriously. She’s a writer of those silly tween novels and she treats her life like one. She has this fantasy that she will ride off into the sunset with Buddy and live happily ever after. She has spent her entire career building unrealistic fantasies that she’s now starting to believe in them. When she has a late movie speech about how Buddy is her moon and stars, it’s not cheesy and laughable like it would be in a different film. It’s actually kind of brilliant.

The relationship between Mavis and Matt also takes some nice unexpected turns and the chemistry between the two actors is surprisingly good. Oswalt in particular plays well in another quirky role, but after starring in the underseen, but absolutely fantastic Big Fan, one can’t help but want more for him. Still, he’s good enough to make this movie watchable, though not enough to make up for its shortcomings. There are some great moments in Young Adult that hint at a great movie hidden somewhere in it. It’s just a shame Cody and Reitman couldn’t find it.

Young Adult receives 2.5/5