Typically, when you hear the words coming of age, forty something and uterus involved to describe the key components of a good movie, unless Steve Carell is involved, no dude under forty or otherwise is going near it with a ten foot pole… that is unless he’s chained to his wife, girlfriend, boyfriend or someone that he hopes might become something close to one of the three later on that night. Yeah, gender politics be damned, that’s pretty much what it is. However, in the case of "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot", given the milieu - war torn and highly combustible Afghanistan, the cast – suited and booted with comedic crown jewel Tina Fey, a master at not getting too saccharine when it comes to making big subjects funny, and crackerjack writing that is sharp, witty and sexy in all of the right places, "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" is a real winner that should be both seen and heard by all who want to learn a little about the wild and sometimes F*ed up uncertainty of human existence – both external and internal, as well as existential and blood and guts real.
One of the best start up jokes in "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" is that once you are on location in the foreign journalist haven in Kabul, known as the Kabubble, an ordinary journalist who is normally a 4 anywhere else in the world suddenly jumps up to a 10, with a normal 10 becoming something close to a half human half goddess sex bomb. Like many things in this well crafted dramedy, the many levels of this joke unfold and peel off like so many layers of an onion throughout the film to provocatively hilarious and worthwhile result – though not in the ways that we might imagine, which is a great part of this movie’s charm. As a story that initially comes off as a simple fish out of water tale with Fey starring as newbie war reporter Karen Baker, it is also a realistic and moving story about how altered perception as a necessary survival mechanism can become a useful or dangerous tool - depending on the person wielding it and the cause. While the emphasis is necessarily focused on the ever changing normal of the journalists who profit from covering the atrocities and indignities of war, to it’s credit the movie never loses the other side thanks in large part to the very masterful and authentic portrayal of Fahim Ahmadzai by actor Christopher Abbott, formerly of HBO’s “Girls.” To his credit as well as the co directors and writers of this movie, in this film Abbott has thankfully come a long way from acting in fictional "real life" universes that lack an understanding of those who cannot simply eject themselves from the urban ghettos and dangerous bubbles of the world due to the luck of privilege. And still, this movie is freaking funny.
While "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" is as gritty as it is beautiful in the way that it visually makes New York as dead end and boring business bland as Kabul is glitteringly mysterious, expansive and possibility rich, it really is the performances that make the wheels go round to grand effect. Great performances abound, but standouts are Martin Freeman as the abrasive Iain MacKelpie, Alfred Molina as the single minded bureaucrat Ali Massoud Sadiq, Billy Bob Thornton as General Hollanek, and a really special treat in Stephen Peacocke’s perf as Nic the bodyguard.
The only quibble with this film? Margot Robbie does as well as expected as Tanya Vanderpoel, the picture perfect self assuredly gorgeous war journo that Fey’s character aspires to become, yet one senses that there could have been more. Certainly, at the inevitable point in the movie where perception turns on it’s ear, it would have been nice to have seen a bit more of Vanderpoel in those private moments when she wasn’t a expert Kabubble drinking buddy, or conversely a hardworking war reporter on the job, yet this screen time and/or nuance just isn't there. But this is a minor lapse in what is otherwise a really well thought out and well-written ensemble piece.
In short, in agreement with the acronym that the title of this movie creates, you’ll be saying WTF and kicking yourself if you don’t go see this movie, which opens nationwide tomorrow, March 4, 2016 in theaters. Wife, girlfriend, boyfriend or other need not apply.
Grade A -