Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a dramedy that isn’t funny enough to make it memorable as a comedy, and it isn’t moving enough to make it memorable as a drama. It’s muddled, not really sure what it wants to be. The movie suffers immensely from this lack of commitment. It also actively refuses to take any meaningful stance on the issues central to its plot – journalists covering the American invasion of Afghanistan – leaving the picture like a news story that fails to inform or entertain.
The story revolves around real life American journalist Kim Baker and her adventures while covering the war in Afghanistan. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (the military phonetic alphabet translation of the letters WTF, so the title is a joke on the popular shortened version of the expression “What the fuck?”) is based on Baker’s memoir, The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Shepherded through the book-to-screen process by star Tina Fey’s production company Little Stranger, the movie transforms its war-torn backdrop into a self-discovery tale with a splash of romantic comedy. It’s an unlikely setting for such a story, one the filmmakers would have been wise to avoid.
There is a scene in the middle of WTF when an Afghan woman asks Baker what made her decide to travel half way around the world to cover the war. Fey, as Baker, sums up her need to escape her life using the exercise bike at her gym to illustrate her point. Baker tells the woman that one day she noticed an indentation in the carpet just in front of her regular stationery bike. She realized it was where the bike used to sit before a gym employee moved it for one reason or another. In that moment, Baker says, she understood she had spent countless hours on that bike, only to move backward three feet. “Wow,” her interlocutor observes, “that’s the most American white lady story I’ve ever heard.”
It’s a funny moment to be sure, and it’s a sly attempt at winking at the audience. We know exactly what kind of story we’re telling, the movie says, and our effort at being up front about it will hopefully earn us some points with you, the audience. It doesn’t, though, because despite this self-awareness by the filmmakers, the rest of the movie is as predictable as you would expect. WTF is Eat, Pray, Love goes to war, and that’s just as disappointing of an exercise as you might expect.