By Megan Bianco
It’s ironic, and in a couple of cases unfortunate, that two completely different comedies, Paramount’s “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot“ and Disney’s “Zootopia,” released on the same weekend both had themes of social commentary.
Using anamorphic characters to metaphorically comment on race and gender issues in our culture, it’s not a surprise the family movie is an instant hit with audiences and critics. Disney’s doing what they do best with animated material along the lines of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit“ (1988), “Aladdin“ (1992) and “Toy Story“ (1995). It’s aimed at all ages, but can also be enjoyed by adults who don’t have kids. “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot“ is a completely different, R-rated racial satire based on the real experiences of war reporter Kim Barker (or Baker in the movie) and not doing nearly as well at the box office or with reviewers.
From 2003 to 2006, Baker (Tina Fey) goes from TV news writer to international correspondent in Afghanistan to cover the military’s involvement in the Middle East battleground. Leaving behind her boyfriend Chris (Josh Charles) and life as she knows it, Kim is in for a big surprise at the huge differences between Afghanistan and New York she will have to experience for the next three years.
The big name cast also includes Margot Robbie and Martin Freeman as British correspondents in the same hostel as Kim; Christopher Abbott and Alfred Molina as Afghan locals; Sheila Vand as a Turkish correspondent: and Billy Bob Thornton as a Marine Corps general. “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot“ is directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, who found success with “Crazy, Stupid, Love“ (2011) but since then have had trouble with “Focus“ (2015) and now “WTF.” Fey in particular is being singled out as part of the lack of interest viewers are having in the film. Though not written by the comedienne, the movie has the same type of self-deprecating and social awkwardness her work on “SNL,” “Mean Girls“ and “30 Rock” had. Even Fey’s old mentor Lorne Michaels is a producer on “WTF,” and yet there is almost nothing legitimately funny to be found in the film.
One reason could be that some people just don’t think a movie about a real war is the best place for a lighthearted comedy, unless your movie is “MASH“ (1970) or “Stripes“ (1981). Another is that Fey doesn’t draw audiences like she used to, and her humor is out of style now. One thing for sure is the lack of a clear message. The filmmakers and actors want to show support for a foreign culture, but fall flat when their jokes about the locals mock them. There are a few attempts at self-awareness with Fey and Robbie making “white girl” jokes, but even those are awkward.
Trying to show Kim as endearingly out of her league by being ignorant about everything from Afghani culture to the U.S. military, she instead comes off as insufferable. The cherry on top is in the form of Abbott and Molina, two white actors with European heritage playing the main Afghan characters, that is cringe-worthily distracting. “WTF“ was never going to be a masterpiece or classic, but when a kids movie with furry animals has better execution of a racially conscious plot, something’s got to be wrong. Maybe a decade ago the film and Fey would have found a moderate success, but that’s unfortunately not in the cards this go-round.
Megan Bianco is a Southern California-based movie reviewer and content writer with a degree from California State University Northridge.
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