Sometimes I’m too lazy for a full-out piece. Sometimes everything I’ve got to say about a film can be summarized in a sentence or two. Sometimes it’s both. So herewith, a quick-n-dirty on Tina Fey’s new film, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot!
“No one will sue when I die…. So now I’m a war reporter.”
Nutshell: Funny, engaging and sometimes terrifying, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot breaks down the chaos and violence of double-aught Afghanistan and makes it relatable to moviegoers who probably never got past CNN sound bites. Fey brings her substantial comedic chops, as you’d expect. But she also taps into the humanity and uncertainty of her character. If this film wasn’t quite so disjointed, it’d be great. But as it stands, it’s good, and that’s okay. Grade: B
Before: This trailer is awesome. I really hope that these aren’t the best jokes. But with Tina Fey leading this flick, I’m betting there’s more in store. I’d no idea that there was a memoir written by a female war correspondent (The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Kim Barker), I may have to add that to my GoodReads queue. Love her quote:
I hope so too.
During: A blend of M*A*S*H and Generation Kill, with a heaping helping of 21st Century frat-party antics to keep the serious subject matter from sinking the ship. Fey is delightful, and she’s really stepping up her dramatic actor game. Her portrayal of Kim Barker (Baker, in the film) is self-knowing, deadpan, and knows what she wants, even though she’s not exactly sure how to go about getting it her new surroundings. The soundtrack is cool, with Harry Nilsson’s “Without You”, “Take On Me” by Ah Ha, and Kid Rock’s “Bawitdaba”. Oh, and shout-out to the set design folks, this wartime Afghanistan is gritty, dirty, messy…and that’s just the journalist’s apartments.
Apparently, as with all films, there were changes made to the real story. While the real Kim Barker was a print reporter – as were the bulk of the journalists she was based with – in WTF the journalists are TV news reporters. I don’t have a problem with that tweak. One scene, where Fey’s Barker jumps out of a jeep to record a particularly harrowing gunfight, and then having that footage be used in a piece that evening, wouldn’t have the same cinematic heft if she’d been in the background, jotting notes. Being able to watch the “Kabubble” journalists react to an on-air news piece that one of them just recorded lets the characters and their reaction take center stage, without too much help from the Exposition Fairy.
Directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa both worked on Crazy, Stupid, Love, and their ability to bounce from topic to topic while keeping serious topics funny is on display here. But as with Crazy, things play fast and loose, more funny than dramatic. I understand Kim, and her life. I even feel for her when things get rough, and celebrate with her and her friends. BTW the best of the co-star bunch are Margot Robbie’s reporter Tanya, Billy Bob Thornton as straight-laced General Hollanek, Christopher Abbott as Afghan “fixer” Fahim, and Martin Freeman’s lecherous, devil-may-care war photographer Iain. Watching this film is like knocking back Wonka’s Fizzy Lifting Drinks. This story is pulling me in, and I’m enjoying the hell out of it. Especially because there’s no giant fan to deal with.
After: Well, as with Wonka’s drinks, the fizzy ride is awesome, but after? I’m back on the ground, and a little fuzzy on what just happened. I know I laughed a lot, and a few times this film hit me right in the feels. Maybe I can just chalk this up to a successful comedy/drama for Fey and like it for the lightweight entertainment it is? But then I remember it’s a film about a war, and I kinda want more permanence in my brain. Hell, there’s plenty of empty space up there, it’s not like letting WTF stick around would be a problem.
Did I like the film? Heck yeah. Would I see it again? Absolutely; I can see myself scrolling through Netflix, seeing this is available, and kicking back again and again. But…there’s a hole where my excitement should be. I don’t know why that is. WTF is fun, it’s funny, but it covers the same ground any other new-kid-in-town story does. Except with more explosions, and lots more sub-plots. The co-workers, the romance, the war, the intrigue with contacts in Afghanistan, the back and forth with the Marines, the fish-out-of-water moments… Maybe that’s it; WTF is a fun ride no lie, but it’s a bit too all-over-the-place to really settle into my bones. Ah hell; I enjoyed it, and I’d watch it again. Shallow ain’t the worst thing in the world.