We all have those moments. The ones where we've realized that we're jumping over subway rails and rescuing someone's dog. And then we realize that, no, it was all just a daydream. And the cause of such a robust imagination is, of course, a total dissatisfaction with one's everyday office life. So it goes for Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller, reprising a somewhat Greenberg-esque role) in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
In this remake of the 1947 film (which explains why the lead character is named something as archaic as Walter) starring Danny Kaye, several tweaks are made to James Thurber's original short story (on which the screenplay is based). Where Walter Mitty was an editor at a publishing house, he is now a negative assets manager at Life Magazine. These aren't the only changes that make Ben Stiller's version (the actor directed as well) somewhat more palatable to a modern audience.
While both incarnations of Walter Mitty are endless daydreamers, often forgetting where they are or what they're doing, the new Walter Mitty is a lonelier sort of fellow who has watched the better part of his life pass him by. His infatuation with a co-worker named Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig) also adds fuel to his endless daydream material. Moreover, the addition of a character by the name of Sean O'Connell (Sean Penn), an elusive travel photographer with whom Walter has shared a sixteen year working relationship, serves to highlight the point that Walter has never really been anywhere.
In between discussing personal details of his life with his eHarmony account manager, Todd (Patton Oswalt), Walter must also deal with a new boss named Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott)--leading the transition from print to online--who already has it in for him and his daydreaming ways. To make matters worse, Walter has somehow misplaced the negative O'Connell sent him for the final cover of the print version of the magazine.
Using this mistake as a reason to talk to Cheryl, who works in photo accounts, Walter is ultimately propelled on a journey to find Sean by taking a trip to Greenland and unwittingly seeking the adventure he had always fantasized about. Once he, at last, gets the thrills of travel he wanted for so long, the daydreams begin to subside. And, unlike so many other movies about chucking the everyday in favor of going on a whimsical trip, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty doesn't fail to leave out the financial challenges of doing so. A scene in Papa John's (yet another corporate company shown love in the film besides Life) reveals Walter balancing his checkbook (quaint, but effective).
And, eventually, Walter must return anyway if he's going to find a new job after being laid off and continue pursuing Cheryl. In addition to this smidgen of realism, the other refreshing aspect of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is that it brings a certain amount of Frank Capra-esque (what is contemptuously known as "Capra-corn") sentimentality back to cinema. Maybe part of that has to do with the remake being produced by Samuel Goldwyn Jr. In any case, if you want to learn a bit about life's meaning (whether you interpret that as existence or the magazine), take a tip from the Life Magazine motto bandied throughout the movie: "To see things thousands of miles away, things hidden behind walls and within rooms, things dangerous to come to... to see and be amazed."