My expectations may have been too high going into Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. Those high hopes came from how much I’ve enjoyed previous Tina Fey/Robert Carlock collaborations. 30 Rock is one of the all-time great TV comedies and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is easily the best Netflix Original show so far. The hopes of a movie of similar quality were enough to get me excited about the movie. In the end, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot disappointed, but only slightly. It is too funny to be really serious and too respectful to be as funny as it could have been. WFT is a mildly funny, somewhat thoughtful film that treads fairly familiar ground.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot stars Tina Fey as Kim Baker, a fictionalized version of Kim Barker upon whose memoir this movie is based, a news journalist who takes a job as a war correspondent in Afghanistan. As she spends a few years reporting on the war she grows more and more acclimatized to the strange reality of living in a foreign war zone, especially one that becomes somewhat forgotten with the Iraq War going on at the same time. She meets and befriends British reported Tanya Vanderpoel (Margot Robbie) and Scottish photographer Ian McKelpie (Martin Freeman) who share her experiences.
The movie doesn’t stay with any of its myriad ideas long enough to explore them fully. Kim deals with an ostentatiously corrupt official, played by Alfred Molina, but the film doesn’t really dig into him any more than that. The same goes for gruff marine General Holanek (Billy Bob Thornton) with whom Kim is embedded. When the film is flitting from focus to focus is captures some of the manic energy of 30 Rock but that doesn’t pair well with the more serious thoughtful scenes, making for an uneven experience. There are glimpses of a great film here, both an uproarious comedy and somber drama, but mostly the movie is just okay.
The strongest thread in the film is how it treats the warzone like an addiction. In order to continue to get her pieces on the air back in America, Kim has to keep getting closer and closer to the danger. They explicitly say she needs another hit. That, with the party atmosphere in the house where all the foreign correspondents stay, doesn’t seem too off base. Eventually, seeing the toll this life takes on a person she is forced to make a decision. That is definitely stronger than the romance between Kim and Ian, which almost works mostly thanks to Martin Freeman’s innate charm.
While it doesn’t quite succeed, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is still an entertaining movie. It is well intentioned, if a bit clumsy; it is competent. That is not the adjective that any film wants, competent, but it is more than many achieve.