Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, 2016.
Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa.
Starring Tina Fey, Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman, Christopher Abbott, Nicholas Braun, Stephen Peacocke, Billy Bob Thornton, and Alfred Molina.
A journalist recounts her wartime coverage in Afghanistan.
Maybe this is relevant, and maybe it isn’t, but as I’m writing this review, television is bringing to my attention Tina Fey (star and producer of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot) trashing the Oscars, calling actors stupid, and stating that political correctness is threatening to comedy; all three of those issues I am in agreement on to varying degrees. She seems like a genuine person that doesn’t buy into the façade and bullshit that is expected of you after becoming famous. Am I familiar with most of her work? Not really, but her viewpoints are on point, skyrocketing her to the top of my list of favorite celebrities.
The point is that Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is the opposite; it’s Hollywood taking a real-life person and reworking the story to the point where everything I’ve read online about the actual former war correspondent Kim Barker, is infinitely more interesting. It also feels oddly restrained in the comedy department, as if it didn’t want to step on any toes, when the very tone of her memoirs (The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan) expressed an abundance of dark situational humor. Coming from the writers of Bad Santa gave off the impression of something more direct and profane with its illuminating depiction of foreign-policy, but outside of Billy Bob Thornton yelling some condescendingly sarcastic insults as a Marine general (obviously lines the writers have mastered at feeding the actor), the movie is lifeless and in desperate need of a spark.
Much of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot simply feels directionless. At around halfway through the movie (it’s also worth noting that the movie borders on two hours, and you will quickly begin to feel every minute of it) Kim Baker (I have no idea why her name was changed either, considering the real Kim Barker has neither love nor disdain for the project) fully reaches a rut. The Afghanistan lifestyle she is living is quickly becoming normality, her dead-end relationship has finally imploded, and we are told that despite Americans caring about the troops, there isn’t much interest in news coverage there (Iraq is what’s hot), leaving her job on the rocks. None of it resonates however, lacking a gripping emotional arc.
It’s no fault of the performances; Tina Fey is excellent and portrays Kim Baker as a complex character with multiple conflicting thoughts, a drive to live a fulfilling life, and superbly uses her natural comedic talent to elicit laughs regarding Kim’s initial ignorance of the Afghanistan culture upon first reaching the location. Martin Freeman is also likable as a sleazy jerk that eventually warms up and catches legitimate feelings for her. Even with the whitewashing of the casting, Christopher Abbott and Alfred Molina also play their roles well. And then there’s Margot Robbie who is once again a smoking blonde bombshell, but what all of the supporting roles have in common is the feeling of being underdeveloped.
There’s also the possibility that the movie takes more than one viewing to truly appreciate the subtly and layers of the characters, but for the most part Whiskey Tango Foxtrot can never find its footing and start being entertaining. That’s also probably why the movie goes from comedy, to drama, to ending on a romantic plot arc. This wouldn’t really matter of course if the movie still functioned properly regardless of what genre it was operating under, but let’s just say there’s a reason Whiskey Tango Foxtrot was marketed as a comedy; it unfortunately fails at everything else.
That actually hurts to say too, because there are quite a few individual scenes within the film that are laugh out loud hilarious (it could be Kim unfashionably dressed at a wedding, needing to take a piss out in the field after consuming too much water, and more). Even the relationship between Kim and Iain (Martin Freeman) isn’t necessarily bad, it just can’t find a way to connect to the audience. The movie has all the ingredients for compelling characters, but just drops the ball. Tina Fey is the only thing preventing unmitigated disaster.
You will probably find Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moderately interesting and engaging (it isn’t a terrible movie at all, but more of a misfire), and the character of Kim Baker fascinating, so do yourself a favor and check out her memoirs. There’s more dark comedy and less of Hollywood twisting history into a more conventional offering.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
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