Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week, Charlie Countryman vs. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, two films that send their beta-male protagonists on unexpected adventures.
Premise Charlie Countryman, née The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman, follows its titular character to Romania, where he falls in love with the daughter of his seatmate (who dies) on the flight. She also happens to be the wife of a very violent gangster (the dreamy Mads Mikkelsen). Why is he in Romania, you ask? Oh, he hallucinated that his dead mother told him to go there. She appears in the film, too, and is played by Melissa Leo. In The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Walter is a pathetic office worker whose only joy comes from an elaborate fantasy world. When his and his coworkers’ jobs are threatened, he goes on a real world adventure to fix things. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty has actual fantasy sequences, but Charlie Countryman still feels like much more of a stretch.Advantage: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Sad-sack ProtagonistsPonytailed Shia LaBeouf stars as Charlie, a down on his luck 20-something. He flees to Romania with no direction in the wake of his mother’s death and can’t seem to stop getting into trouble. As the first scene of the trailer tells us, Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) hasn’t done or been anywhere worth anything. He’s pitiable, but likable. We want him to find some adventure. Not sure we can say the same for Charlie.Advantage: The Secret Life of Walter MittyLeading LadyIn Charlie Countryman, Evan Rachel Wood is Gabi, the Romanian kept woman and professional cellist for whom Charlie is willing to die. Wood is a good actress (Remember Thirteen? And more recently, The Ides of March?) but her attempt at Romanian accent is cringe-worthy and giving us a real case of fremdscham. Even a movie like Girl Most Likely isn’t enough to decrease our love for Kristen Wiig. There’s not much of her in the trailer, but we’re hoping they’ll be more of her in the actual film.Advantage: The Secret Life of Walter MittyDirectorBen Stiller is not only starring in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, he also directed it. Stiller’s past forays into directing have been quite successful: he directed Tropic Thunder, The Cable Guy, and Reality Bites. We already know he can handle darker material because he was excellent as an actor in Greenberg. This is Charlie Countryman director Fredrik Bond’s first feature film, so we’re going to go with Stiller.Advantage: The Secret Life of Walter MittyVisualsThe seedy Romanian underworld as depicted in Charlie Countryman looks like getting stuck in a foreign strip club while on a bad acid trip. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. We think the pulsing lights and gritty setting have potential. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty has a photo of Sean Penn coming to life and birds flying in the shape of Kriten Wiig’s face, and the result is dreamlike, not cheesy.Advantage: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
The VerdictThere’s no contest here. Both films aim for quirk and unconventional storytelling, only The Secret Life of Walter Mitty seems to nail it. We’re looking forward to Stiller’s performance as the earnest Walter and can’t wait to see him finally experience life. We’re rooting for you, Walter.Winner: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty