When I wrote about the marketing for Whiskey Tango Foxtrot I thought it leaned a little too heavily on the audience’s affection for star Tina Fey, trying to sell it as an extended episode of “30 Rock” more than anything else. The full movie, unsurprisingly, is more complicated than that.
The story follows Kim Baker (Fey), a bored and unhappy TV news copywriter who’s offered the chance to head to Afghanistan in 2003 to help cover the war happening there. She’s remarkably unprepared for that effort and finds herself over her head quickly as she deals with a radically different culture not only out in Afghan society but also in the common house she shares with cameramen, technicians and reporters from a host of other channels and outlets. Still, she gets the lay of the land quickly and becomes an important war correspondent as well as finding out she’s capable of much more than she thought she was.
Where the movie itself differs from the campaign is the journey that Baker embarks on once in Afghanistan. The marketing was very joke-driven, trying to sell audiences on the hilarity of a clueless white woman who becomes kind of a bumbling foreign correspondent. But the movie tells a much more complicated story.
Fey’s Baker wises up pretty quickly once she’s in-country. While she’s by no means the most seasoned person in the shared compound, her ability to get people to talk and to fairly cover a story quickly come out and bring her to the top of the game. Over the course of the story she becomes much more assured of what she’s doing and much less dependent on the approval of those around her, whether its her boyfriend back home or those around her in Afghanistan. She becomes her own person, someone who’s blazing her own trail without apologies.
That’s almost completely missing from the marketing, unfortunately, and sells the movie short. This isn’t just an “SNL” skit about a reporter who views reporting from a war zone as an opportunity for some personal growth, ti’s about someone rising to the potential that was inside of them the entire time but whose former circumstances didn’t allow that to come out. Baker is only truly herself after she’s given the opportunity to shine and it’s that growth that forms the most interesting parts of the story.
The love interest that’s part of that journey feels tacked on and was only a marginal part of the campaign. But the jokes and one-liners that formed the crux of the appeal to the audience are also fairly marginal in the grand scheme of the movie. While there are certainly issues with the story and the movie as a whole, it’s much more interesting than the “funny” trailers made it out to be.