The ever-unassuming Walter Mitty (director Ben Stiller, seemingly unable to choose just one side of the camera to focus on) frequently zones out. That’s what his sister Odessa (Kathryn Hahn) and their mother Edna (Shirley MacLaine) call it. He’s been doing it since he was young, probably since his father died and he had to take over caring for the family. He spends his workdays processing the photographs of Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn), the premier eye in the field capturing the exotic richness of life for Life magazine. O’Connell experiences all of the moments surrounding the still frames that grace the covers of the signature magazine, but Walter is there to curate the constantly moving picture show. Work is little more than an extension of his dreams. But, of course, life intrudes — rather, the end of Life intrudes.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty finds Stiller, the director embracing the works of Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich) and several other members of the corps of commercial and music video directors (Jonathan Glazer, Stéphane Sednaoui, et al.) armed with DIY aesthetics and the restless spirit of skateboarders transforming any and every public space into their very own skate parks, exploring the outer limits of the short form and discovering fantastic possibilities and potential. Walter was a beleaguered Everyman, writ small, who dreamed big and it was the act of dreaming that set him free. Stiller has given us a fitting reminder of the impact of living in the real world. Now in theaters. (PG) Grade: A