This capsule review was originally published in May 2014. The images are from the film and are not my own.
Last summer when the trailer for this movie arrived I watched it on repeat. It was perfect. Stunning creative shots set exquisitely to a Monsters and Men track and an ending at the car rental shop so funny my brother and I laughed again and again (I still think it's the funniest moment in the film). If I could have framed that trailer I would have, but part of me knew that such unabashed devotion only resulted in outstandingly high expectations.
Now that I finally got around to watching the film the unusual cinematography that the trailer exhibited remains its major streangth, alongside its creative use of typography. It's fitting that the visual elements are so strong in a film that celebrates the value of photographer's image. This, combined with the mostly unified soundtrack (thanks Josh Ganzoles) and the rugged Icelandic landscape, kept me happy for the film's duration. But the movie as a whole failed to graduate from good to great for three reasons.
The storyline felt slapdash and predictable. A plot that moved from New York to Greenland and Iceland and then back to New York would make sense. But a plot that does all that, then adds a backpack trip to the Himalayas and a segway in LA (for the purpose of reintroducing a minor character), finally returning to New York to neatly sum everything up felt a tad complicated, especially when the eventaul ending felt so predictable.
The film's believablity was also hampered by an inconsistent reality. I enjoyed Walter's daydreams. The cinematography blended so them seamlessly with reality that at first we aren't sure just was is happening. (Did he really just insult his boss's beard so brilliantly?) I particularly enjoyed the battle in New York's streets that poked such good natured fun at our modern obsession over superheros. But when the story changed from daydreams to real adventures, moments like a shark battle in the Arctic Ocean cast this supposed reality into a dreamlike state - which would have been fine if the point of the story was that Walter was now transitioning from solely dreaing about adventures to actually doing them.
Which brings us to the point of the story which was muddled by an uncertain and unarticulate message. I think it's point was that we were supposed to go out and chase our dreams. But maybe it's saying that all it takes to get the girls and stare down the jerks is to have a tanned face and a beard from epic mountaineering? Or that having Iceland on your resume along with skateboarding skills and the skill making descisions to join a Tebiatan football game after hiking all day will get you success in life? It did have something do to with being the hardworking ordinarily employee (as long as you remember to enjoy the moment rather than always photograph it). It is hard to be profound when you have nothing profound to say.
In the end, the film would have done better if it had tried to do less. Like longboarding down an Icelandic road, this is a fun ride with many pleasures. I enjoyed watching it. But its efforts at trying to say something leave it in the dust of so many other films that say such things so much better.
(And no Icelandic kid would trade his brand new longboard for a ridiculous toy from the 80s. Please.)