One of my favorite things is seeing comedic actors come into their own in more serious roles. After a while the same goofy schtick can get old, and audiences crave something different, especially when you’ve been making comedies for as long as people like Will Ferrell and Adam Sandler have. Ben Stiller is a similar case, although he has dipped his toes into quasi-serious fare, from The Royal Tenenbaums to Greenberg. But it never really stuck to the point that it arguably has for actors like Jim Carrey or Robin Williams, who still make stupid movies but have undoubtedly proven themselves to have much more to offer than silly voices. It looks like Ben Stiller is trying to carve out a similar place for himself with his new movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. The fact that Stiller not only stars in it but also directed it (although it’s certainly not his directorial debut) makes it even more likely to earn him street cred among the film snobs. It doesn’t hurt that the new trailer for the film makes it look really promising.
Walter Mitty is a remake of a classic 1947 movie based on a short story by James Thurber. It’s about a dissatisfied office worker who deals with abuse from those around him by escaping into complex fantasies while admiring his co-worker, who’s played in the remake by Kristen Wiig. The remake’s been trying to get off the ground for years, with everyone from Steven Spielberg to Jim Carrey to Owen Wilson attached.
I’ve never seen the original film, but it’s billed as a comedy, and there are definitely moments of quirky humor in this trailer. But it also appears to take a very modern, artistic approach to the story. A lot of the scenes remind me of something Michel Gondry would create. Since he’s my favorite director (Eternal Sunshine, hello), I approach this with simultaneous glee and hesitancy. But mostly glee, because who doesn’t love some good surrealism in the midst of failing blockbusters and movies where Adam Sandler plays a woman? If you think about it, the comedians-turned-serious-actors trend has tended to involve movies in this mind-bending genre. Think The Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine for Jim Carrey and Stranger Than Fiction for Will Ferrell. This movie could have the same effect on Ben Stiller.
Not that I don’t enjoy watching Stiller do blue steel or talk to GOB Bluth about illusions, but his stuff hasn’t exactly been top shelf of late. I mean, The Watch and Tower Heist were totally the same movie with different posters, right?