In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “It’s just kind of shapeless, with any moments of character growth and audience satisfaction seeming a little too tacked on or forced in.”
“There’s only so much any of us have any control of, good or bad. If you didn’t learn that in Afghanistan, you were not paying attention.”
Tina Fey is one of the smartest, funniest voices in comedy right now, and has been for a solid decade or so. She had such a strong voice as the Head Writer of Saturday Night Live, that for the first time in my life, I actually knew who the Head Writer of Saturday Live was. She starred in and co-created 30 Rock, one of the best and most original sitcoms of the new millennium. Which is a list that her latest sitcom effort, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, is also pretty much assured a place on once it gets a few more episodes under its belt. And while I may have thought it was just OK, I can’t deny that she wrote a movie that has an important place in cinema for an entire generation with Mean Girls. Yet for all of that, for some reason, Fey is yet to really crack it as a bankable, big screen star. Which is something that likely and unfortunately won’t change with Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.
With a career behind the scenes for a cable news network in New York, Kim Baker (Fey) has found professional success, but not real satisfaction. With US forces invading Afghanistan in the fallout from 9/11, she jumps at the opportunity to move there as their on-camera correspondent. Landing in Kabul, she enters what more experienced journalists call the “Kabubble”. These more experiences journalists, including British reporter Tanya Vanderpole (Margot Robbie) and Scottish photographer Iain MacKelpie (Martin Freeman), introduce Kim to a world where western reporters party hard and bang their security guards in the safety of their oasis like compounds, in between reporting from active war zones in the field and just outside of their protected front doors.
The guide to this more serious side of Kim’s new world is General Hollanek (Billy Bob Thornton), a seen-it-all Marine who has a job to do, that in no way includes babysitting or indulging the media. Meanwhile, Kim becomes more and more entrenched in the Kabubble, while becoming more and more distant from her life back in New York, including boyfriend, Chris (Josh Charles).
I was really intrigued by the basic premise of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. I’m a fan of every single member of the central cast of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. And while there was nothing inherently bad about this movie, I was never really drawn very far into Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. Based on a memoir by the real life Kim Baker, The Taliban Shuffle; Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the movie plays out like a memoir. And while that might seem like an obvious outcome, movies and written memoirs use their own unique strengths to tell their stories, so sticking too closely to the source material isn’t always the key to a good adaptation.
Real life is a series of events that might be intrinsically connected to a bigger picture, or they might be all but unrelated. When broken into chapters in a book, or even episodes of a TV show, these not-so-connected events can still live together and build on each other. In a single movie though, we’ve been preconditioned to find satisfaction in big, overarching stories and events. That’s not say that all movies need that tidy three act structure with a crowd pleasing payoff. But Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is so traditional and straightforward in every other part of its film making, that it kind of needs a more expected approach to story as well for it to work. As is, it’s just kind of shapeless, with any moments of character growth and audience satisfaction seeming a little too tacked on or forced in.
But, I will say this, Fey, Robbie and Freeman make for a charming trio of friends I could hang out with a lot longer than the running time of any movie. Re-adapt this story into a TV series with the same cast (including Thornton as the foil), taking away the rules of movie storytelling, and I could binge 10 or 13 episodes on Netflix, no worries at all.