The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a movie about finding adventure in your life. It's also a movie about how great products are.
Ben Stiller's passion project about having passions has its admirable qualities: it's beautifully shot, ambitious in scope, and competently acted. Undermining all of that, however, is the fact that the movie is laden with product placement. Mitty exists in a time void that is nostalgic to the point of anachronism—the movie revolves around finding a photographic negative—but is also stuffed to the edge of the frame with references to things you can purchase in our modern world. It's very distracting.
We decided to catalogue all the references we could find and elaborate on the few big ones.
The plot is essentially framed around eHarmony, this much is obvious in the film's marketing. In the opening scene, Walter is attempting to leave a "wink" for his crush Cheryl Melhoff, played by Kristen Wiig. It doesn't work so he calls up a customer service representative, voiced by a cheery Patton Oswalt. There's talk of the company's "very intricate matching algorithm" as Oswalt urges Walter to add more cool places and activities to his profile. Even as Walter ultimately traverses Greenland, Iceland, and Afghanistan, he still receives follow-up calls from Oswalt, in what might he the greatest act of customer service ever recorded in human history. Until its one-upped later on at a crucial moment, wherein Todd—and therefore eHarmony—actually saves the day.
In what is perhaps a nod to how long it took this movie to get made, Walter works at now-defunct Life magazine—which is housed in the Time-Life building—and both the Life logo and the Life motto are all over the place. In the film, the magazine is transitioning to online publication. Though the Life brand certainly isn't as strong these days, it still exists in a Google archive and at life.time.com. Certainly the film helps some, especially with the magazine romanticized the way it is.
Walter mentions early on that he worked at a Papa John's, when reminiscing about his father's death, and thereafter, the pizza chain becomes a kind of totem of Walter's premature maturity. Then, somewhat improbably, Walter actually visits a Papa John's in Iceland. He steps out side to talk to Cheryl—you never have to charge your cell phone in this movie—and has an emotional turning point as he tells an old, Papa John's-related story.
Conan and TBS
In one of Walter's many daylight fantasies, he's a famous guest on Conan O'Brien's late-night show.
No trip to an airport in a movie this sponsor-packed could be complete without a visit to the Cinnabon. Two characters even bond over the "frosted heroin" in front of them.
By the end of the movie, a sea change within Walter sees him graduating from eHarmony to Career Builder to help build his resume. Basically, we've come full circle in terms of life-betterment sites.
Other brands that are either appear or are simply mentioned include:
- Air Greenland
- American Airlines
- McDonald's (the "I'm lovin' it" jingle is referenced)
A Stretch Armstrong toy also plays a fairly major role, but since we're not sure Stretch Armstrong is such a viable brand anymore, you can just credit that to the movie's overwhelming nostalgia.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.