This movie is a remake of a 1947 movie which I haven’t seen, but I can pretty safely say is better than this. This story just doesn’t make as much sense now as it would have back then. Mitty spends his life at a desk job dreaming of a more adventurous life, but why doesn’t he take it? People in the 1940s might have had a paranoia about job security owing to an upbringing in the great depression, or a sense that they had to buckle down and do what was important even if it wasn’t what made them happy, but people nowadays don’t have those same feelings. Back then Mitty’s wistful temperament might have said something about how stifling the world was; now it says something about him, and how little gumption he has if he won’t seize any of the options he has for a more fulfilling existence.
The outdated nature of the premise pushes the whole movie’s tone out of whack. We’re supposed to root for Mitty to get the girl in his office, but his online stalking of her seems slightly creepy and his workplace advances are tiptoeing towards sexual harassment. Furthermore Ben Stiller is too old to make his escapist character seem cute; seeing a middle aged man zone out every time people are talking to him doesn’t read as romantic, it reads as distant. Even if we assume that he is not as emotionally unavailable as he seems at first glance, he’s spent the last few decades of his life being an uptight weirdo, so he’s a horrible romantic comedy protagonist - he doesn’t seem like the type of person who could put the happy in happily ever after.
Futhermore, the specifics of the plot are ridiculous in the modern media landscape. Mitty spends most of the movie crossing the globe to find one photo that he’s been told is the most amazing photo of all time for the cover of the last issue of Life magazine. Meanwhile we are in such an age of oversaturation that whenever we see an amazing photo it’s on a click-bait list of “the 12 most amazing photos you must see before you die!” This film wants to be seen as being optimistic; it just reads as out of touch.
Worst of all: the only laugh I got out of this whole movie was one line that Patton Oswalt probably ad-libbed. At one point Stiller and Oswalt get a Cinnabon together (there’s a lot of product placement in this movie) and Oswalt repeats something Stiller said as if it was the chorus to an 80’s pop song. It’s a trick that he’s been using in his stand up act for years – but it still feels a lot fresher than anything else in this dried up husk of a movie, which is decades out of date.
Winner: The cat