[Making friends in Afghanistan.]
Based on the autobiography of war correspondent Kim Barker, WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT’s struggles are similar to those of every movie that’s “based on a true story”. It can’t quite find its theme and dramatic arc, because real life doesn’t have themes or dramatic arcs. In real life, stuff just happens and we make sense of it as we go. It isn’t nearly as satisfying or succinct, but if WTF’s plot is merely a day-in-the-life, at least its subject is the constantly amusing and engaged Tina Fey as a fictionalized Kim “Baker”.
It can’t be emphasized enough how important Tina Fey was to getting this film right. Watch an interview with the real-life Kim Barker, and you’ll see the same poise, intelligence, cadence of speech, and wit that Fey exemplifies. She not only brings Baker to life, she shows off some seriously underused dramatic skills. Tina Fey has always injected humanity into her humor, but as Baker, her humor is just a small contributing factor to her humanity.
This isn’t to say the film isn’t that funny. Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman, Billy Bob Thorton, and Alfred Molina all bring their A-game with great comedic performances, underlined by a realistic intensity. PowerWaifu rightly says that this is the only performance she’s ever found Martin Freeman attractive in, I’d imagine because he’s playing a normal dude and not a stuttering Hobbit-man.
As for the plot’s aimlessness, it seemingly emphasizes the “same day, different shit” mentality American broadcasting has on the war in Afghanistan. 15 years later, we’re still there, and the film astutely points out that we were already sick of hearing about it in 2004. It’s almost a microcosm on a nihilistic take on life. Horrible things happen. Nobody cares. All your struggles are meaningless.
Baker struggles to find where she fits into all the nothing while battling her own addiction to trouble. It’s a disturbingly human message to take away from a comedy, but certainly a relevant one. WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT isn’t a typical historical drama or comedy, but it does remind us of something important we managed to forget years ago. For a film about such serious national and personal self-reflection, I can’t think of a better guide than Tina Fey to inject some levity into the affair.