Thursday night Deadline‘s Michael Fleming reported that Ben Stiller will probably play the lead role in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, a film based on a 1939 James Thurber short story that first appeared in The New Yorker.

The 20th Century Fox project has been kicking around forever, but a new script by Steve Conrad , writer of The Pursuit of Happyness, persuaded Stiller to sign on, and now a director is being sought for a late-fall start.

I haven’t read Conrad’s script and that would be the whole thing, of course. But a film about a guy who lives half his life in a fantasy-daydream realm? That sounds a bit so-whatty. With all the dream-supply technology available today, what less-than-fully-fulfilled person in 2011 isn’t living in some kind of alt.reality? In 1939 James Thurber‘s story might have been up to something a little bit brave and unusual and perhaps even subversive, but today….? Daydreams, fantasies and inner realms are the norm, the national religion.

Plus there’s that title, or, more to the point, the name “Walter Mitty.” It sounds musty, anachronistic — an invented name meant to convey dweebiness, like Herman J. Beedle or Chester P. Finklestein. What under-40 guy is named Walter? It’s one of those pre-war cobweb attic-storage names like Ethel or Mildred or Milton. The piece would be freed of a lot of baggage without it.