The Daily Gamecock

"Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" disappoints with lack of content and comedy

Former Chicago Tribune reporter Kim Barker in Khost, Afghanistan, in June 2005. (Kuni Takahashi/Chicago Tribune/TNS)
Former Chicago Tribune reporter Kim Barker in Khost, Afghanistan, in June 2005. (Kuni Takahashi/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

When I first heard the early rumblings of a film called "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" — a dramedy starring Tina Fey and dealing with overseas wartime journalism — I had my doubts.

I kept trying to picture the sarcastic teacher of “Mean Girls” in the midst of explosions or dirt or any nation outside of America, and I kept failing miserably.

Still, I held on to a vague hope that Fey’s sharp wit and stubborn feminism would translate into awareness and informed storytelling about Afghanistan and culture clash and journalism that goes beyond a Mac computer or an office or a newsroom.

Then I saw the trailer.

The trailer featured pretty Caucasians such as Margot Robbie and Martin Freeman. The trailer featured the crass jokes typical of the American R-rated comedy. The trailer featured a white lady’s existential crisis reminiscent of “Eat Pray Love,” etc.

And then, finally, I saw the film.

The film fulfilled all of the disconcerting premonitions I had when the trailer for “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” released.

Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa of “Crazy, Stupid, Love” fame and released on March 4, the film fell entirely short of its subject matter. With severely limited perspective and overplayed bawdy humor, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” attempted to deal with war and journalism in Afghanistan in the same way that “Neighbors” dealt with fraternities and “Identity Thief” dealt with, well, identity theft.

Fey and Freeman, although their performances were not necessarily Oscar-worthy, did play their roles well. They were R-rated in a way that had a little more depth than the usual comic R-rated characters. Freeman was sleazy yet serious — a talented journalist with some rogue charm and his shirt unbuttoned a little too far. Fey was everything you could ask for in the role of a middle-aged American woman who is bored with her life and ready for more meaning than her gym workouts and sanitized workplace. Both drove home the feel of the entire text and completed the film’s picture of a fast and fun community of journalists who just happen to be in an exceptionally unusual environment where bombs could strike at any minute.

The entire cast was seamlessly together with no oddball in the film, no center character with a quirky personality, no cultural tension in character relationships that was too tense, no little jolt that stuck out from the movie like a sore thumb.

The consistent feel of the film was a plus. The continuity of its diegetic world might have been the best element of “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot."

And with that, I end my praise of the film.

Was the film a sympathetic look at the conditions of Afghanistan? No. Was it an ode to journalists who risk their life for the truth? No. Was it a treatise on government, the U.S. military or female empowerment? No, no and no.

So what was “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?"

I’m really not sure.

It wasn’t a serious commentary or drama, and it fell short of full-blown comedy.The jokes weren’t funny, the plot was somewhat sex-obsessed and no important issues were examined.

Audiences saw Fey’s character progress from a bored journalist in America to a thrill-seeking journalist in Afghanistan and then back to a bored journalist in America. Her character experienced no transformation and the lessons she learned were unclear. At the film’s finish, she leaves Afghanistan to return to what she calls the “normal” world.

Countless opportunities for poignancy, cultural commentary and educating viewers about important issues were missed. Cultural customs were seldom explored and characters didn’t provide a lasting impact. Sentimentality on the part of the viewer was forced in one or two scenes, but nothing made a mark on the viewer or more than scratched the surface of today’s Middle East.

The film drove by many chances for provocative statements and filled the blank space with a seemingly accurate military-esque setting and bawdy sex jokes that somehow missed their punch lines.

The film also noticeably ignored the plight of Afghani women and the talent and bravery of female overseas journalists. No women’s issues in the Middle East were dealt with, except for in brief and somewhat comedic references to Fey’s character’s immodest clothing. Bold women journalists who make the decision to face war and enter what is traditionally a male field were reduced to hourglass figures and shallow people who use the sexuality of their gender as a commodity.

Overall, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” cheapened the conflict in Afghanistan and its consequences by combining it with sex and then using this combination as a turn-around for a white woman’s over-privileged dissatisfaction with her boring American life, only to return at the end of the film to the U.S., deeming America the “normal” world.

Maybe the film’s creators didn’t want a dramatic portrayal of the crisis in the Middle East or a sacred homage to overseas journalism. The film was based on a book by Kim Barker, a real life correspondent during the Afghan war. I haven’t read the book but I’m assuming it has some of the same flippant humor, raciness and sarcasm of the film.

However, the film lacked statement, it lacked opinion and it lacked a point. It rode on the snarky deliveries of Fey and Freeman and really had no other substance. As the book featured neither the wit of big name screenwriters nor the delivery of big name actors, the book had to have relied on something more than a couple of well-known white actors.

So what was “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?” It was a missed opportunity. It was a rip-off. It was an American mid-life crisis dressed up to look like social commentary.

Call me sentimental or old-fashioned, but I still believe in paying respect where respect is due. I also have a strong dislike of those shallow films that upgrade potty humor to “adult” levels, throw in some F-bombs and slap on a shiny comedy star and an R-rating to draw audiences.

“Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” lacked respect and it lacked a point. It was vaguely racist in its refusal to pay attention to the culture of the nation in which it was set, vaguely misogynistic in its sex-obsessed portrayal of women and vaguely ignorant in its shallow storyline and characterizations.

In honor of overseas journalists, the Afghani people and anyone who is involved in the Middle Eastern conflict, skip “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot."

The film was a failed attempt to make something very serious into something comedic and left much to be desired in today’s tense social climate and conflicted world. 


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