Directors: Glenn Ficarra & John Requa
Run Time: 1h 52m
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is like that one scatterbrained friend we all have. She means well and she’s pretty fun, but she’s way too flustered and messy so you only understand her about half the time.
Based on a true story, Kim Baker (Tina Fey) is a copy writer who is less than satisfied with her life. So she takes a leap of faith and agrees to be a television journalist in Afghanistan in the early 2000s. She packs up — in a bright orange rucksack — and heads to the dangerous desert land. She realizes quickly she is out of her element but manages to make the right mistakes to make a name for herself with her employer, the Marines she’s with, and her fellow journalists. Australia’s Tanya Vanderpoel (Margot Robbie) and Scotland’s Iain MacKelpie (Martin Freeman) are among the many friends she makes during her 3-month turned 3-year stay in the Middle East. But after a few too many close calls, — and some wise words of warning from her Afghan “fixer” Fahim (Christopher Abbott) — Kim wonders if there’s truly a limit that shouldn’t be tested in her line of work.
I can’t decide what this movie is trying to say. Yes, it’s based on a memoir written by Kim Barker. But did she have a point? Part of me thinks this film wanted to say “war is dangerous and without the media it can easily be forgotten.” But perhaps it was meant to say “journalists will stop at nothing to get the truth to the viewers, no matter how risky.” But that doesn’t make sense because in a way it also was letting you know that “journalists are crazy people with a death wish and they’re only looking for the juiciest story that gets the as close to the action as possible so they can have their mind-blowing footage aired around the world.” I wanted it to be the first one so badly, but I don’t think that’s the case. I feel like Kim was brave to step outside her comfort zone, but somewhere along the line the message got muddled underneath a strange competition between the journalists and Kim didn’t back down. And where she ended up was a positive thing for her. So did the end justify the means? It certainly felt like that’s what we were being told. I’m also not sure I feel like that’s a good thing in this case. Kim made a lot of horrible mistakes that could’ve gotten people killed (it definitely got some people hurt), but it’s all good because it mostly worked out! Maybe?
In WTF’s defense, the characters would often try to explain. An often repeated line was “It’s not about [blank]…!” Unfortunately that’s only helpful if you tell us what it is about. No one ever answered or finished the thought. So I certainly know what it wasn’t about! But process of elimination only works if there are a few possible outcomes. WTF never eliminated enough to give a clear conclusion as to what it was trying to accomplish.
Musical decisions were questionable for this one. I concede I really enjoyed the songs by themselves, but nothing seemed to match up to what was happening on the screen. For example, there was a rather up-beat song playing during a raid. Whether they were trying to lighten the mood, or make fun of war, it seemed inappropriate regardless.
The characters themselves aren’t all that likeable. I cared about exactly three people. In order from most to least is: Fahim, one of the Marines, and Kim (for the most part). Too bad Fahim isn’t a “main” character so his screen time is limited, and we only get about 7 minutes with the Marine. Kim’s friends aren’t that great and I’m not at all shocked or bothered by what happens to them along the way. If I was supposed to feel something deeper, sorry I guess.
That’s not to say that the actors playing these less than desirable characters were horrible. The acting was quite good. Tina Fey turns out an outstanding performance and she is believable in her role as a witty woman discovering a world outside her own. She was the source of almost all of the comedy and very few jokes fell flat for me. I can’t say anything bad about Freeman’s or Robbie’s performances either. They are talented actors and they did a great job here. It’s not their fault the story was a little lackluster. However Christopher Abbott was my favorite. He’s not Afghan (he’s a New Yorker of Italian and Portuguese parentage), and typically I would be quick to criticize this type of casting choice. However his performance was so respectful of the culture he was representing it didn’t feel insincere. Fahim’s relationship with Kim is a tricky one. They respect one another and care for each other, but she is a walking opposition to everything he has been taught. His character definitely had the best writing. Both in what he was supposed to say, but also in the way he was supposed to carry himself and react to situations they got into. A lot of this has to do with direction, but there’s also part of Fahim that is all up to Abbott.
I mentioned that Kim is the primary humor mill. This has everything to do with Tina Fey because in truth, this movie is not a comedy. It’s a drama that happens to be comedic sometimes. It’s not as serious as your typical war drama, lacking battle scenes and hardcore action. But it’s not a big bowl of laughs either. I’ll concede that those around me in the theater laughed a lot more often than I did, but I’m sure they also understood the point of WTF. As we all know, I did not.
Perhaps I am not meant to be the target audience so take that into consideration when realizing I’m not a huge fan of this film. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is at least decent and watchable, but it could have been so much more. I’d say you’ll want to wait for a rental on this one if you’re interested.
My experience with war comedies involving journalists is very limited. Instead I’ll leave you with something slightly different, but what it lacks in similarity to WTF it makes up for in substance. It’s still a war comedy of sorts that follows a radio DJ. Considered one [of many] of Robin Williams’ iconic roles, no one could ever forget the way he proclaimed Good Morning, Vietnam!