‘Whiskey Tango Foxtrot’ Is More Than Whimsy

It has been exactly a week since I went to see ‘Whiskey Tango Foxtrot’ on opening day. Going in, I wasn’t sure what to expect – I had a sense it might be like Shawn Levy’s ‘This Is Where I Leave You,’ starring Jason Bateman from back in 2014, where in essence his wife cheats on him and he goes through a bit of a crisis trying to “find” himself again – but I was excited either way, because, well, it’s Tina Fey. The only thing that would’ve been better at that point was if Amy Poehler was going to be starring in it right alongside her (and if you haven’t seen Sisters yet, go forth, watch it, and be happy). Come on now.

What I definitely hadn’t been expecting was to leave the theater feeling as emotional as I did.

From the trailer – which I will link down below – you expect your basic run-of-the-mill, funny, mildly uplifting and based-on-half-truths movie (directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa) about a woman named Kim Baker (Fey) in her early forties who feels like she’s been living in a rut and finally decides to do something about it. Granted, most people opt to find a new hobby or go on a well-deserved vacation – but Baker takes the idea of a vacation to the next level and flies across the world to Kabul to accept a job opportunity as a news reporter during the War in Afghanistan.

At first, what I’d gathered from commercials and such was that her boyfriend had cheated on her, thus spurring her on to make the big move – but surprisingly, that wasn’t the case at all. In fact, it didn’t even become clear he’d cheated on her until about a quarter, maybe two, through the movie (which still doesn’t make the whole of it any better and now I’m fixating, sorry). It was refreshing to see that she was choosing this for the benefit of herself though, not simply to run away (although it soon became clear that everyone in Kabul was compartmentalizing and running away from something as time went on). My mom mentioned to me afterwards that she wished Kim had done something to get back at her boyfriend, and it occurred to me that we left the theater feeling emotional about two very different things, and that’s what makes a good movie, isn’t it?

The movie felt very much like a PSA – without any danger of sounding preachy, what with the comedic elements and a few of the more romantic aspects of the story to distract from taking on that tone (I know Martin Freeman with a Scottish accent definitely distracted me). I definitely got the sense I was being made aware of just a few of the terrible, unspeakable things that happened in Afghanistan – all while I was growing up in America, blissfully ignorant of exactly what people were made to go through back then. For 13 years that war went on – starting from when I was about 5, until it “ended” just two years ago, when I was 18. It blew my mind during the movie that these reporters were more focused on successfully telling a story that would keep up their relevance, rather than connect with the subjects in them. There was one scene in particular, where a bomb struck part of the city and buildings are in charred shambles, the people inside them either crying out in pain or simply burnt corpses, civilians running around in grief or panic, and yet there are dozens of reporters milling around, pushing and shoving, yelling into their phones about satellites and signals.

How do you get to a place where a burnt corpse on the ground becomes less important than getting it on video?

But that was no doubt the point. I think many of us who grew up during the time of the war grew so used to seeing packages on the news about it, that we forgot we were actually seeing all of that suffering. Other humans were living in fear, fighting for their lives, either trying to make it home or save theirs, and somehow – in all of that, we forgot it was real, that we could go through the very same things, too, someday. There’s another scene towards the end, where Kim’s network head tells her the media can’t cover what people don’t want to see, or else they run the risk of becoming irrelevant too. They call the War in Afghanistan ‘the forgotten war’ a time or two throughout the movie, and though it’s been a week since I saw it, that stayed with me. I think that always will.

Courtesy of Frank Masi
  • Plot: 7.5/10 – I was pleasantly surprised, as I explained above. I wasn’t expecting Martin Freeman to be part of the movie for as long as he was, and when it became clear he would be sticking around as Fey’s love interest, I was for it (I’m also terribly biased on that front, so maybe disregard that). I hoped they would get some sort of fairy tale happy ending, as unrealistic as those expectations were, but what they got was so much realer, so much more hopeful. That’s probably the best way to describe the overall plot: real and hopeful, with an obvious touch of embellishment (I took off half a point because I got so invested in Kim Baker, that I Googled Kim Barker, the actual real-life reporter who wrote the book the movie was based on, and was a little let down that the likes of Iain MacKelpie (Freeman) and Tanya Vanderpoel (Margot Robbie) weren’t actually real people – of course, if they had been, I might think they were mildly awful people, so maybe that’s for the better).
  • Characters: 8.5/10 – I loved this cast, but I loved their characters even more. There was development on all accounts, possibly barring only General Hollanek (Billy Bob Thornton), whose character remained relatively stationary throughout the entire film – and even still displayed more layers than most film character can say when they’ve only been given a handful of lines. The obviously minor characters were what helped invest me in the movie at the start though – characters like Fahim (Christopher Abbott), Kim’s right hand man and translator, and Coughlin (Evan Jonigkeit), a specialist whom she met during one of her first trips out of Kabul, were powerful in that they were just so good and real; they had lives of their own, they weren’t just supports to prop up Fey’s Baker upon.Margot Robbie’s Tanya even came with a twist I personally didn’t see coming, what with the healthy competition between her and Fey’s Baker, and how they’d both been so eager to bond with one of the only other females in their circle. While I was disappointed where that friendship lacked, her betrayal (which is all I’ll give away) made sense. I think it makes for better material when the audience can be conflicted like that, when they understand both sides of the coin. A great deal of the conflict in the film was choosing between telling the story and actually listening and connecting with it, and Kim’s struggle with that and realizing that she doesn’t like who she’s become when she only tries to tell stories was just so fascinating to me.
  • Music/Score: 8/10 – It’s always a bit harder for me to recall the actual music I heard in the film rather than the trailer, so what I generally try to do is recall a relatively quiet intense or dramatic scene, and rank how close to the edge of my seat I was during it because there’s almost always music creeping up on you in the background, silently evoking those emotions. Clearly, they evoked more than their fair share out of me this time around.
  • Cinematography: 8/10 – The way some of the shots were framed in several of the more intense scenes, and the movements of the camera reflected that, was well done. Warning: there were a few jump scares – though I am a self-admitted wimp, so some people might not be so concerned – but the framing warned me well in advance, which I might have given a few extra props for.
  • Editing/SFX: 8/10
  • Theme: 8.5/10 – I wrote quite a bit on the message of the film above – or at least, what I got out of it – but what I left the theater feeling was hopeful, a little melancholy, and a lot outraged. I felt angry that more people hadn’t paid more attention, even hopeless to a degree, but sad that it was too late, sad that there were so many lives lost and so much innocence robbed of them, sad that when Kim finally left, it was because she could – whereas others were not so fortunate. That second to last scene with Kim visiting Coughlin back in America and meeting his family was so powerful to me, because that is actually the reality for veterans today. The movie just made me so aware of things I’d had no idea about growing up, and made me feel extremely grateful for how easy my life was and is.
  • Public Reception: 7/10 – It doesn’t seem to be doing too badly, though it certainly wasn’t a hit in the box office by any means. Rotten Tomatoes gave it 62%, which is fair enough – I can see that it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, and as cruel as the irony is, not everyone wants to go and see yet another movie about the wars again (how did 13 Hours do anyway?).

Overall: 7.9/10

I realize I made this movie sound way heavier than what most people probably felt it was, but I assure you, it did have the laughs any movie starring Tina Fey promises – although it was mostly a dramedy, heavy emphasis on the ‘dram.’ (Ew, that was bad, I hate myself for that.) Like I said though, I did come away feeling hopeful, so if you like to be uplifted and vaguely unsatisfied (at least, in the case of my mother and sister, who don’t like the open ending – it’s all up to your interpretation), this is the movie for you. I keep telling people that I honestly believe this is Tina Fey’s best movie – until her next one, that is.


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