When comedians decide to “do drama”, you can hear their managers slapping themselves violently on the forehead.
“Sweetheart (even if it’s a guy), are you sure you want to do this?” (Delicately expressed so as not to get fired as manager, whose primary job requirement is persuasiveness, starting with persuading them they need a manager in the first place.)
To quote the wise words from The Three Amigos concerning the deleterious consequences of giving the audience what it didn’t ask for instead of what it’s expecting:
“We strayed from the formula and we paid the price.”
This show biz dictum is substantiated by box office evidence comparing the last two Tina Fey movies, the former a comedy, the latter, a “dramedy” with an emphasis on the “dram”:
Sisters – one hundred and four million dollars in ticket sales.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot – fourteen.
Okay, so let’s personalize this, using myself as an audience member, positively disposed to Tina Fey’s intelligence, taste and comedic sensibility. I do not always love what she does, but I respect her artistic integrity. And sometimes I laugh.
I was not entirely exhilarated by the prospect of seeing this movie. But when your alternatives are seeing Whisky Tango Foxtrot or staying home and watching an episode of Father Brown you have already seen and had not liked the first time, you put on your pants and you go.
(Acknowledgement: I do not always wear pants in the house. So if you drop by unexpectedly, expect a short delay after ringing the doorbell.)
The movie starts. A TV journalist with a waning enthusiasm for the job accepts the challenge of being a “field reporter” in war-ravaged Afghanistan.
Okay. Private Benjamin. ‘Fish out of water.’ Here we go.
No. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot – which I am guessing is a militarized acronym for “What The Fuck!” though it is not spelled out in the movie – has deeper and more serious intensions.
Okay, then it’s M*A*S*H?
No. The narrative is not hallucinogenically induced and minimally, if at all, critical of the military. (Although even The Princess Pride warned against prolonged land wars in Asia.)
So I am watching this movie (based on a memoir by combat journalist Kim Barker) and it is not long – I am no dummy – before I realize that it is not going to be a comedy. (Although, concerned about its commercial prospects, it has unquestionably been marketed as one. Plus, there’s Tina Fey, who is virtually synonymous with comedy. So there were clues. They just happened to be wrong.)
I am then reminded of overhearing a Senior Citizen attending Seth MacFarlane’s Ten Thousand Ways To Die In The West in Michigan City Indiana believing she had bought tickets to a comedy although not one involving graphically delineated sex acts exclaiming,
“I don’t know about this.”
Okay, it’s not a comedy. So what is it?
It is a sanitized depiction of a female correspondent in a contemporary war zone,
altering my response to the movie at that point from a mildly disappointed “It’s not a comedy” to an anxiety-riddled “Somebody’s getting their foot blown off!” Turning my general demeanor from “tolerant” to “I want to go home!”
But then, while I endured my obligatory sentence, the movie started to grow on me, and I was eventually won over. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is not what I expected. But after I got past that, it became, for me, a scrappy puppy I felt driven to protect.
Tina Fey is virtually impossible to dislike, even when her character is a jerk. Though I would never equate Tina Fey’s determination to play a flawed character in a movie with a combat journalist putting herself “in harm’s way”, I truly believe that both actions, in their respective arenas, require demonstrable courage.
Also, as a valuable “take away”, I left the theater with a line of dialogue that may prove helpful in dealing with the adversity headed inevitably in my direction.
In a closing scene in the movie, the Tiny Fey character, now stateside, visits a combat veteran whose loss of both legs in Afghanistan she feels at least partially responsible for. After dismissing a myriad of blameworthy suspects, the coping double-amputee provides this simple philosophy:
“You embrace the ‘suck’ and you move on.”
Shimmering advice of that nature?
You would never hear that in a comedy.