At first glance, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot looks like a clear cut comedy. Tina Fey is front and center, the trailer is packed with joke after joke and the title itself is just a use of military lingo to say "WTF." How could it be anything but laughs?
But there's a bit more war in this "war comedy" than you would expect from the film's marketing, giving the movie a bit of an identity crisis. It's based on the book The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a memoir by journalist Kim Barker about her experiences reporting overseas. And things get kind of dark.
Do misplaced expectations make it a bad movie, though?
I saw the movie with fellow GuideLive writer Sarah Blaskovich. Here's our evaluation of the movie:
Britton Peele: Sarah, I don't know if you watched many trailers or clips for this movie before it came out, but when I asked you to see Whiskey Tango Foxtrot with me I thought it was going to be at least 75 percent comedy (and not just because it starred Tina Fey). I was caught off-guard by how serious a lot of it was. Were you surprised?
Sarah Blaskovich: Yes, so much.
After seeing the movie, my first thought was: What ARE you, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot? There are funny parts, but it's certainly not a comedy. There's romance but it's not a rom-com. There's action but it's not an action film. And instead of being this delicious stew of all of those things, it's a disjointed version of each one.
This is a movie that has a lot of heart and a ton of name-brand celebrities, yet I never need to see it again.
Did any of that ring true with you?
Britton: Totally. I would still say that comedy is a huge chunk of what the movie tries to accomplish, but it was really more about war. Fey's character, Kim, is a journalist (just like us!) that decides to spend a few months overseas in Afghanistan to do war reporting for her network. Only "a few months" turns into "a few years" of reporting sprinkled in with a surprising number of parties, a wedding and a romantic fling with a surprisingly Scottish Martin Freeman.
I thought the war reporting aspect was interesting, in part because I'm not the kind of person that would ever have the stomach to take that kind of assignment myself. Sarah, you have a lot more experience doing actual journalism than I do (most of my career has been as a critic), with some of it being in a country that wasn't your home. Did any of that stuff resonate with you at all?
Sarah: That's a great question. Yes, I enjoyed a glimpse into the life of a war correspondent. (If this based-on-a-true-story movie is to be believed, war reporters drink a lot of whiskey.) I also found myself captivated by the odd relationships people develop when they're uprooted from home and forced to live, dorm style, with a bunch of strangers from all over the world.
I'm giving the movie more credit than I want to, though, because on the whole it felt muddled. My notes say things like "The pacing is all wrong" and "I have no idea where this story is going" and "Every moment is so short that no 'feeling' seems to last." Was that all on purpose? Is the joke on me?
Britton: No, I think you're right. I personally felt that, when the movie tried to be humorous, it nailed it (in no small part because Fey is a genius). Even some of the other lighthearted but not overtly comedic scenes worked well, too. I particularly liked Fahim, who serves as Kim's guide and eventually becomes one of her closest friends. He brought a lot of heart to the story for me.
But then sometimes things would get really dark. One scene in particular is actually quite bloody and horrifying. I imagine the disconnect was at least partly intentional on the part of the filmmakers -- kind of a, "In war, life can get incredibly crappy right when you start having fun" sort of message, but I'm not sure that always made for a cohesive movie-going experience.
What's some stuff that worked for you? Because I get the impression that you didn't hate it, even if you wouldn't see it again.
Sarah: Tina Fey worked for me. I don't know if I've ever taken her seriously before, and I had no trouble believing and even liking her character. The story worked for me too: I felt the struggles and the joys of a gaggle of journalists who don't have much in common.
Oh, and I liked Billy Bob Thornton. God, I love him.
But one more beef: What is up with the name of this movie? Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, for short, is WTF. That had nothing to do with the movie but is, I guess, interesting? I think those words are also military call letters. Which is not interesting. Combine the movie's identity crisis with the fact that it has a really sucky title and I think somebody should have hired a better PR firm.
Britton: I actually disagree with you on the title. I thought the "WTF" meaning was clever, personally.
You did mention in your notes that the war story is more interesting since you've been listening to season two of Serial. Would you recommend this movie to fans of the podcast?
Sarah: Yes, I would. For those of us who haven't been to Afghanistan, listening to a podcast about it can make it hard to picture just what conditions were like. I felt like I better understand Serial, season two -- and I also felt a deeper appreciation for our military men and women in Afghanistan -- after seeing this movie.