A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a dramedy based on journalist Kim Barker's memoir The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Despite starring Tina Fey, the movie is by no means all laughs; rather, it's a fairly unflinching look at life in a war zone, including bombings and gunfights (some of which result in deaths), as well as political instability (as characterized in tension-filled scenes that show sometimes-violent demonstrations) and the ways in which journalists cope in such unstable conditions -- methods that include lots of alcohol and dangerous career decisions. Expect tons of swearing (including "f--k" and more), plus hard drinking (with an occasional foray into cocaine), innuendo, kissing/groping, a quick glimpse of porn on a computer screen, and implied sex. The film has also drawn some controversy for casting white actors as as some of the Afghan characters.
What's the story?
Tina Fey stars in WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT (which is how you'd spell "WTF" using the military alphabet) as Kim Barker, a TV news writer who jumps at the chance to become a war reporter in Afghanistan in the mid-2000s when her life hits a standstill. The ramp-up to the job is steep and dangerous; staying alive even more so. And then there's the challenge of staying grounded to who you are and what you really want out of life when you're faced with abject poverty, violence, and terror. The cast also includes Alfred Molina, Billy Bob Thornton, Margot Robbie, and Martin Freeman.
Is it any good?
It's by no means perfect, but in some ways, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot goes further than other films in communicating what the war correspondent experience really is like. It doesn't just reveal the highs -- the journalistic scoops, the adrenaline-spiking wins -- it also frankly deals with the some of the lows, primarily the chaos and dislocation that both soldiers and the media encounter when dropped into embattled countries like Afghanistan. But here's where the film taps out: capturing what happens when they're settled in, so to speak. Though it does show the characters slowly normalizing what's a decidedly not-normal existence, it would seem -- at least based on what we see here -- that the usual way anyone copes in such circumstances is through drinking, drugs, and casual sex. No doubt that's likely accurate, but there's an inordinate focus on that stuff (even though the film takes great pains to impart the fact that such extracurriculars don't really work that well, or for long) when larger questions loom: How do journalists' expectations and approach to their work shift when they witness the day-to-day existence of the citizens in the country they cover? How do they maintain ties back home? Can they?
Also problematic, though not enough for it to entirely detract from the film's strengths, is the tone. The yearning to keep things light when making a movie about a subject so dark is understandable. But Whiskey tries too hard to do so, giving it a more-dangerous-and-with-bigger-stakes Eat Pray Love vibe that it doesn't deserve. Fey is winning, displaying a burgeoning ability to balance both pathos and comedy, but treading that line isn't always successful, and the movie's humor chips away at some of the potency of the more serious moments. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is worth a watch, but it could have been more of a contender.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Whiskey Tango Foxtrot depicts life in a war zone -- for both the soldiers and the journalists. Is one group portrayed more sympathetically than the other? Are there any additional perspectives taken into account?
How is drinking portrayed in the movie? How do the characters feel about drinking/other substances? Is that a healthy situation?
Did you learn anything from the film that you didn't know from the news? Why do you think Kim decides to become a war correspondent?
Did you notice that some Afghan characters were played by Caucasian actors? Does that matter? Why or why not?
- In theaters: March 4, 2016
- On DVD or streaming: June 28, 2016
- Cast: Tina Fey, Margot Robbie, Billy Bob Thornton
- Directors: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Genre: Comedy
- Run time: 111 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: pervasive language, some sexual content, drug use and violent war images
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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