Starring: Tina Fey, Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman
Director: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Screenplay: Robert Carlock, Kim Barker
Comedy/War, Rated: R
Running Time: 112 minutes
Release Date: March 4, 2016
I think we just experienced a new WTF moment, Scott.
The main WTF for me was: What’s Tina Fey doing in a serious movie? Turns out I had nothing to worry about. Let’s recap.
We meet single white female television reporter Kim Baker (Tina Fey). Her highers-up decide that they need more coverage in Afghanistan and they’ve gathered all the single childless reporters together to see who will volunteer for three months overseas. Kim has little else going on so she volunteers. Upon arriving in Afghanistan she discovers that the air stinks and so does life for a woman in the fundamentally Muslim land. But she befriends an Australian reporter Tanya Vanderpool (Margot Robbie) who assures that while she was a ‘4’ back in America, she’s a definite ‘10’ in Afghanistan.
Kim also befriends the lecherous Iain MacKelpie (Martin Freeman), a Scottish freelance journalist. Assisting Kim as her guide in Afghanistan is Fahim Ahmadzai (Christopher Abbott), who navigates the dangerous terrain, cautions her where appropriate, and serves as her translator. Kim cultivates a working relationship with US Marine commander General Hollanek (Billy Bob Thornton), whose war-weary men know they are fighting a lost cause. At first, Kim plans only a short stint in the country, but her stay in Afghanistan turns out to be much longer and more perilous than she imagined.
WTF would be a fun movie, if only it weren’t so true to life. War in general and Afghanistan in particular is no laughing matter. Still, Fey pulls us in with her “uncertain girl” routine. She’s played this role before on her sitcom 30 Rock and other films. She has an everywoman appeal that disarms us and makes us at ease with whatever situation she is in. Unlike her other film this year in Sisters, WTF Is thoughtful, funny, and entertaining. I would definitely go back for more.
Every once in awhile, a movie catches me by surprise. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is exactly that movie. How does a comedic actor like Tina Fey manage to master a role that offers biting social commentary? This film treats us to a bevy of meaty performances and some surprising lessons for our heroes and their companions. Our hero, Kim Baker, must grow up fast, adapt quickly, think well on her feet, and develop some serious toughness. The transformations that Baker undergoes are mental, emotional, and spiritual, and they are transformations utterly necessary for her survival.
The supporting characters here are wonderful, beginning with her rival reporter Tanya who is vulgar, flippant, and damaged from her experiences in war-torn Afghanistan. Also damaged are the soldiers who put themselves in harm’s way knowing that what they’re doing is entirely senseless. The guide Fahim offers stoic wisdom, and the Marine General’s bravado belies his sense of hopelessness. We watch our hero Baker pursue her mission and remain sane in an environment where sanity isn’t an option. This movie is a powerful story of survival, truth-seeking, and personal revelation.
Baker starts out the film very unaccustomed to her surroundings. She goes to pay for a cab and the desert winds blow away all her cash. She loses her head covering, offending everyone nearby. Her “handler” Fahim has to guide her through the uncertain world she’s entered. She quickly gains the respect of the troops she’s embedded with as she jumps out of the jeep during a firefight and films them blowing up a pickup truck. While she is green, she certainly is not lacking courage.
I’ll say. The mentoring she receives is pivotal for her success. Tanya is like a big sister to her, dispensing personal and professional advice that Baker badly needs to hear. Fahim is a geo-political mentor, if there is such a thing, in that he guides Baker through the desert and through foreign norms and customs. The General and Iain play more low-key roles in advising our hero, offering only minimal guidance here and there. In the end, Baker grows into her own person who makes bold moves and key decisions to save Iain from possible death. Baker is a hero who receives help that allows her to evolve into a wise sage herself by the movie’s end. That’s what we look for in any good hero narrative.
WTF Is a fun war movie in the way that M*A*S*H was a fun movie. Tina Fey brings her sharp comic timing to bear and delivers a story of a woman hero who goes from just getting by to commanding a network cable news room. It stacks up well against such movies as Walk And Joy. I give Whiskey Tango Foxtrot 4 out of 5 Reels.
Kim Baker is a great hero who demonstrates both the strength that is necessary to be an embedded reporter, as well as a woman in a world where women are considered less than human. Baker enters an unfamiliar and hostile world as naive, but soon learns to master it. Ultimately, she takes those lessons back to the familiar world and rises to the top. I give Kim Baker 4 out of 5 Heroes.
While we see a number of mentors in this story, none of them are particularly strong. Tanya is a bit of a dark mentor, showing Baker how to use her status as an American woman to her benefit. General Hollanek is less of a mentor and more of a father figure whom she must either atone with or bend to her way of thinking. Fahim works as a low-level guide through Afghanistan, but offers little in the way of emotional guidance. I give these characters just 3 out of 5 Mentors.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot represents a breakthrough movie in the career of Tina Fey, establishing her as a legitimate dramatic talent. This movie reveals the tragedy of unnecessary war and the damage that all wars, whether necessary or not, inflict on both the guilty and the innocent. Our hero navigates through this broken world, suffers some scarring, but emerges intact and ready to make the world better. I give this surprisingly powerful film 4 Reels out of 5.
Our hero Baker follows the classic hero’s journey: she ventures into a dangerous world, learns from various allies, develops qualities that she needs to grow and succeed, falls in love, battles a nemesis or two, returns to the familiar world, and begins to make a difference there in ways that would have been impossible without the journey. The story packs some punch. I give Baker 4 Heroes out of 5.
Because the mentors in this film all hail from the dark world of violence and oppression, they are tinged with darkness themselves. These damaged mentors mean well and their guidance assists Baker in her transformation, but at the same time Baker must rise above them to become the hero that we crave in this story. Not one mentor, alone, is sufficient, but their combined effect is useful and transformative for our hero. I award this group of guides 4 Mentors out of 5.