Wednesday, June 29, 2016 1:01 AM
“Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” stars Tina Fey—I can’t think of any previous dramatic film role, unless you want to count “This Is Where I Leave You” (2014) which was a dramedy—a humorous take on a serious subject. And there is certainly humor in “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot”—though it has rare moments of comic relief rather than an overarching comedic tone. So it would be stretching things to claim that Ms. Fey has suddenly dived into dramatic roles. Still, it would be wrong to overlook her jumping decisively into this wholly dramatic role with both feet—and sticking the landing, IMHO.
Tina Fey’s performing career is just a late bloomer, I guess. She did a whole lot of writing before she became a well-known SNL cast member—I’m not an expert on her career arc, but to take on a serious movie role for the first time, a few years after winning the 2012 Mark Twain Prize for her life’s work in virtually every aspect of the comedic side of the entertainment industry—that’s taking one’s time in developing an acting career.
I don’t know much about Kim Barker, either—I haven’t even read her war-correspondent memoir “The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan”, on which the film is based. I’m both tempted to go and read it now, having seen the movie, and reluctant to go even deeper into the troubling truths being confronted in the film.
There’s the ‘big picture’ stuff, like how our military can fight and bleed in a faraway country while the citizens at home can’t even be bothered to hear about it on the news. And there’s the personal, like how a woman can find herself trapped between the opposing extremities of being an invisible desk drone—or doing stand-up reports amidst flying bullets and shrapnel. In the end I was left with the impression that the big, cold world is more pervasively evil than the discrete violence of a war zone. In spite of my penchant for happy, sappy, ever-after-type movies, I enjoyed being fed this more serious fare, with Tina Fey as the spoonful of sugar that made it go down.
Being sixty years old, I was, of course, embarrassed to watch “Kung Fu Panda 3” all by myself—this stuff was much easier to explain when the kids were small. But I loved it—sue me, I’m a sucker for a good animated film. And I was reminded that these films are serious business when the end credits listed the voice actors (most of whom spoke in all three films): Jack Black, Bryan Cranston, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, J.K. Simmons, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, Kate Hudson, James Hong, Wayne Knight, and Jean-Claude Van Damme. Try making a live-action movie with a cast like that—it’d be a hundred-million-dollar budget before you even began shooting. Angelina Jolie must have enjoyed the recording sessions the most—all of her and Brad’s kids are also voice-credited in the film.
I know that the messages in these kid films are simplistic—but I still believe in teaching kids to care, even with a silly movie. When Po sacrifices himself to save the whole village, it cuts a little close to the edge—the authors of the New Testament may have a case for plagiarism there—but he returns from the ‘world of the spirit’ (falling on his butt upon landing) so we are left with the ‘out’ of interpreting the whole thing as ‘clever strategy’, rather than a re-telling of The Messiah, so no harm done.
I think I favor the Kung Fu Panda franchise because its fantasies always have two components—the traditional threat of a big, mean bad-guy, and the search for wisdom as a means of defending against the impending evil. Po spends equal amounts of screen time worrying over the enemy’s arrival and his struggles to please his teachers and learn the lessons he’s being taught. He doesn’t go looking for a great weapon or go on a quest to destroy the one ring—he always goes looking for wisdom. I like that.