The most important thing you need to know going into this movie is that the trailer and all the promotion for it is a lie – this movie is NOT a comedy. At all.
Oh sure, there are a lot of funny moments – the funniest of which the trailer has already shown you. But Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is not, despite all the hype, a comedy. It’s a movie about a female war correspondent in Afghanistan, and how being there alters her life and her conceptions of normal and of herself. But a comedy it is not.
In fact, if you want to see an R-rated comedy, go see Deadpool. It’s funnier and has a similar level of violence. That’s not to say that Whiskey Tango Foxtrot doesn’t have funny moments. It does. But it also has drug use, very foul language, and people dying in battle and explosions, along with some other things that earn its R rating. I couldn’t have cared less about all of that. And as a war correspondent movie, it makes you feel you’re there. However, as the comedy I was expecting to see, this is an utter failure.
Kim Baker (Tina Fey) does not head to Kabul in the mid-aughts for the reasons the trailer shows – that she catches her boyfriend (Josh Charles) cheating. She heads there because she wants to make a radical change in her life and because her news outlet is pretty much begging all the single people without children to go cover the Forgotten War. The boyfriend cheats on her after she’s been there for months.
She does become friends with Tanya Vanderpoel (Margot Robbie), the only other female correspondent there. She also has relationships with a variety of men, most of them platonic. She learns many things about herself, about war, about how much it kind of sucks to be in this war-torn country, about how to make her career matter, and how to deal with a variety of different kinds of men (including Billy Bob Thornton’s General Hollanek) and win. And along the way some jokes are cracked, some people die, some are maimed, and some just sort of disappear after we’ve had our “big moment” with them. Kim also gets involved with a Scottish photojournalist, Iain MacKelpie (Martin Freeman).
Seeing this movie the day after the Oscars – where we were treated to Chris Rock and Whoopie Goldberg and a host of others pointing out that #OscarsSoWhite is a real thing – brought home the fact that it’s really #HollywoodSoWhite. Who plays one of the top Afghan officials? Alfred Molina. Don’t get me wrong – he’s a great actor. But he’s not from that region. Who plays Kim’s local guide, Fahim, who is also the one doing his best to help her keep her moral center? Christopher Abbott. Seriously, there’s no one playing any native of any importance who is actually Middle Eastern. Was Oded Fehr just too busy? Fahim Anwar does play a supporting character, Jaweed. So I guess one is enough and we call it good.
I sound disgruntled with this movie, and I am. The movie has flaws – a lack of full characterization for anyone other than Kim or Iain being the biggest, with the ease and speed of Kim’s travel to and from Kabul to the States and elsewhere being the second – but my main reason for being less enamored with this movie than I’d expected is that the trailers set me up for one movie-going experience and gave me another. I wasn’t laughing through this whole movie, I was tense and nervous. Which is GREAT for a movie about a female war correspondence in a hot zone in the Middle East. Not so awesome for a “laugh until you hurt” comedy that the studio’s telling you this movie is.
This is based on a true story and a book by the real Kim Baker, “The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan”. Maybe it’s got some really funny lines and situations in it, too, interspersed with death and destruction and the other horrors of war and a repressive regime in a more repressive region. Hey, we call it gallows humor for a reason.
There is one actual hero in this movie, and it’s not Kim. It’s Specialist Coughlin (Evan Jonigkeit). He doesn’t have a big role onscreen, but he’s present throughout the movie, based on Jonigkeit’s performance and what we, the audience, know to expect from the moment we get to know him early on. What we expect doesn’t exactly happen, but his character holds the true morality of this movie.
I wish the studio hadn’t made the decision to sell this as a Tina Fey comedy vehicle. The movie is well enough made, the acting is all quite good, and the claustrophobic sense of being there, in this very foreign land, is palpable. Go in expecting the movie that it is, versus the movie the studio is saying it is, and you’ll probably enjoy it. Go in expecting a laugh riot and you, like me, will probably leave the theater feeling lied to in all the wrong ways. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot indeed.
Rating: 3.5 Stars (4 stars for the War Correspondent movie, 3 stars for the comedy movie)
When reporter Kim Barker’s (Tina Fey) life needs something more, she decides to ‘shake it all up’ by taking an assignment in a war zone. There, in the midst of chaos, she finds the strength she never knew she had. Sometimes it takes saying ‘WTF’ to find the life you were always destined to have.
Cast: Tina Fey, Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman, Alfred Molina Christopher Abbott, Nicholas Braun, Stephen Peacocke, Sheila Vand, Evan Jonigkeit and Billy Bob Thorton.
Directed by: Glenn Ficarra and John Requa.
Written by: Robert Carlock