Ben Stiller directs and stars in this new adaptation of James Thurber’s 1939 story about a daydreamer who works in the photo department of Life magazine, handling the stills of the people whose lives he longs for. Walter takes drastic steps when a negative goes missing, sent to him from hero and photojournalist Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn), intended for the last edition of the magazine. Faced with the prospect of never again getting to speak to his co-worker and crush Cheryl (Kristen Wiig) and with the loss of the publication which speaks so clearly to him looming, Walter changes his life in a way even he never would have imagined.
There’s the bones of a good film here, amidst all the various styles jumbled together. There are comedic moments from ‘transition manager’ Adam Scott, romantic ones from Kristen Wiig and fantasy ones from Walter’s wild imagination. It’s half an hour too long, and feels on the verge of being brilliant, but as though some of the innocence of Walter’s character has diminished. There are amazing moments, such as Walter deciding to go to Greenland and running past the most iconic Life Magazine front covers, or Kristen Wiig singing Space Oddity as Walter leaps onto a helicopter mid lift off. It’s also a beautiful advert for Iceland, with breathtaking shots of the landscape.
But it’s the character writing that lets this film down for me. If Walter’s life is so quiet and boring would it really be so easy to go and talk to the girl he dreams of? And would it be so easy for him to leap on a plane, to wear cooler clothes, and to become increasingly Ben Stiller-esque?
Part of the beauty of the concept of this film comes from its simplicity. This adaptation feels like it went too large, dreamt too big and lost some heart along the way.