“Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” (or WTF as it’s being affectingly nicknamed) was a movie I was very excited for. Comedy and war are two genres that are very difficult to mix. Very few films have been able to do it effectively (“M*A*S*H*” and “Good Morning Vietnam” are a few examples of films getting it right). But, when it done well it makes for a great film. Watching “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” you all have the ingredients for a great movie are here. The movie wisely doesn’t go many huge gags and keeps the comedy feeling natural with a clever mix of satire and situational comedy. Beneath the surface however the movie has a hard time deciding what it is thematically and isn’t able to establish a strong identity.
Based off “The Taliban Shuffle”, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” follows a woman’s journey, Kim Baker, to Afghanistan to be a combat TV journalist. Along the way she gets caught up with the adrenaline, antics, and the life of being in Afghanistan. Outside of that it’s hard to explain exactly what this movie is about. The movie follows Kim Baker but what is it about? Her experiences in Afghanistan right? Well sure, but underneath that what is it? The feels like a catalog of her trip to Afghanistan with little moments here and there that don’t really connect with one another. Each little adventure introduces a new arc or a new theme but the filmmakers rarely explore it.
For instance the movie begins to talk about war being a drug. That’s been done before whether it be “The Hurt Locker” or even “American Sniper”. It’s a natural thing to explore in a war film but here “Foxtrot” introduces the idea then forgets about, only for it to pop up again near the end. It doesn’t have to be present throughout the movie but it needs to be an underlying that connects from beginning to end. “Foxtrot” doesn’t do this. The movie for a while focuses on her relationship troubles and that takes up a good part of the film. But, is that what the movie is about? Is it a women’s place in Afghanistan?
There are two things you might say as rebuttal to that. Well a movie like “Boyhood” is just a collection of moments and you loved that. Or, this is just a comedy why are you reading so deeply into it? A movie like “Boyhood” works because you can effectively say what that movie is about. It’s about growing up and time itself. Those are the central themes, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” doesn’t really have that few themes we can point to and say, this is what the movie is about.
The answer to the second question is simply, this isn’t primarily a comedy. While the comedy is there and present it feels like it’s a secondary to the drama and goings about of Kim Baker. This never feels obligated to making you laugh, it sprinkles it in at just the right moments. It’s clear this movie is more a dramedy than a comedy. It that, the filmmakers clearly wanted to explore more than just make the audience laugh.
However what I can say out of that, the comedy really does work with this movie. It never feels out of place nor does it feel in bad taste. It makes light of some of the situations with humor but in an appropriate way. This really doesn’t have any big gags (the biggest is seen in the trailer with the first women driver in Kabul) it instead goes for some sharp witted exchanges between characters. This is where directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa seem most comfortable and are at their most effective. This is a respectful movie and the directors do a good job of reminding the audience that there are some stakes involved being a war time journalist. That’s a very difficult tight rope to walk and Requa and Ficarra do it well.
The other aspect thing about this movie that works is the collective cast and more specially its main star. Tina Fey is incredible in this movie. This is a bit outside of Fey’s normal wheelhouse (like with fun comedies like “Date Night” or “Sisters”). This really does mix in some dramatic elements and her comedic side has to be toned down. This is perhaps the first time I saw Fey playing a character rather than playing herself. She stills have that eye winkle charm but she manages to pull back a bit. I really would like to see Tina Fey try more roles like this because this movie shows the great potential she has in that field.
The rest of the cast is terrific as well. Martin Freeman comes close to stealing the entire show and has great chemistry with Tina Fey. We know Freeman is likeable but even he throws a little challenge for himself. His character is a wise ass and has no problem cursing like a sailor. Freeman could have easily seemed like an asshole but knows how to throw a mean jab but add a dash of lightness to it. Margot Robbie (only a few months away from seeing her as Harley Quinn) showcases her knack for comedy and character pieces. Robbie is proving she isn’t a one trick pony with “The Wolf of Wall Street”. Alfred Molina is hilarious in this movie, and Billy Bob Thornton makes for a great fit as the Marine General (with Freeman and Thornton it’s a “Fargo” reunion). Christopher Abbott is good too but I wanted to see much more from him. Abbott’s character is a bit underused.
This movie does have a nice charm to it and is very easily watchable. I never found myself bored and uninterested in what was happening on screen. The movie balances a difficult thing and combines comedy and drama very well; and it’s cast is absolutely fantastic. They are largely the reason why the movie works. I wish though this had a stronger identity. This movie has a hard time trying to find its central themes and it does show. However despite that this is an effectively entertaining movie and is a good showcase for Tina Fey.