The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

imagesThe Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Director: Ben Stiller

Key Actors: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Sean Penn, Shirley MacLaine

MPAA Rating: PG

Synopsis: Walter Mitty is a dreamer who frequently “zones out,” as his sister calls it. He had ambitions of travel and adventure in his youth, which were derailed by the early death of his father. When an important photograph goes missing on his watch at Life magazine, he must travel the globe to find the photographer and see if he can find the original film.

Overall Rating: 2 Stars

I was skeptical of this film simply because I have a thing against remakes and can you really do better than Danny Kaye? But I saw this film anyway (late in the game) because everyone said it was amazing! There is much about this film to love. The opening credits are clever and interesting. It has great moments of humor. Ben Stiller is lovable. The notion that you should live life instead of dream about it is a good reminder to us all. While I think some of Walter Mitty’s daydreams are more dumb than funny, this film is light, inspiring, fun, and interesting to watch. But then we get into how the women fared in this film.

Bechdel: This film may have passed the Bechdel–just barely. There is a brief scene where Walter Mitty’s mom and sister discuss his sister’s newly landed role as Rizzo in a production of “Grease.”

Treatment of Women: This is where this movie ultimately fails. To start, Kristin Wiig’s character serves only to inspire Walter. He doesn’t know her, but you can bet he is in love with her and dreams about her. It is because of a daydream about her telling him in song he can do it that he even dares hop onto a helicopter manned by a drunken pilot. It is because of her that he even goes to Greenland in the first place because she told him to go to where the photographer last was. And then there is the part where she thinks she’s boring him because he is zoning out daydreaming about her instead of being with her in real life. It is a good idea to actually be in the present with the people you claim to love so much. Just a thought.

Second, there are so many side characters in this film that could easily have been cast as women but were instead cast as men, meaning there were only five women in the entire film, two of whom didn’t have names and were onscreen for no more than a few minutes. A woman could have been cast as the helicopter pilot or the eHarmony employee or the person who rescues Walter from the volcano or the photographer or the jerk-face company takeover guy or jerkface’s cronies or Walter’s assistant or any of the crew on the ship. So many opportunities! Yet none were taken. This might be a movie about adventure and inspiration, but it is mostly a movie about men going on adventures, while the women inspire and make sure wallets aren’t thrown away.

Third, that bike scene. Of all the reasons in the world for a group of men to race for the only bicycle in Iceland, the writers of this film had to choose a group of horny men who wanted to go to the strip club, complete with the infamous and icky “feel her up” hand gesture. That choice is not creative, not clever, is incongruent with the tone of the film, and is incredibly sexist. Besides furthering the notion that women only serve to inspire men and be sex objects for men, this plot choice also serves to further the false idea that all men are slaves to sex and all men are fine with groping and objectifying women. These lies need to stop.

In short, this film is complicated for me. On the one hand there were so many details I loved! But on the other hand it is typical of so many of the problems facing women in film today. I can’t wholly recommend it, but I can’t wholly hate it either.

Bonus question: Why were there people playing soccer at an altitude that was supposed to be high enough that even walking is difficult, in an area that was supposed to be remote enough for the snow leopard to dwell?


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