Dec 20, 2015

Trailing Off: "Whisky Tango Foxtrot" (2016)

Tina Fey in Whisky Tango Foxtrot
Welcome to the weekly column Trailing Off in which I take a look at a trailer from the past week and analyze its potential. This will be done using an obnoxious amount of analyzing and personal thoughts on the cast and crew as well as expectations. Coming every Sunday (it's called Trailing Off for a reason), I will attempt to highlight films ranging from new blockbusters to lesser known indies and give them their due. Partially to spread awareness, I do believe that there is an art to the sell and will do my best to highlight why these trailers matter or don't with approval (trove) or disapproval (trash). So please stop by, recommend some trailers, and I will see you next time.

Trailer in Discussion

Directed By: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Written By:  Robert Carlock (Screenplay), Kim Barker (Book)
Starring: Margot Robbie, Tina Fey, Billy Bob Thornton

- Preamble -

I do think a lot of conflicting thoughts when it comes to Tina Fey. Let's get the obvious out of the way: I think that she's among the smartest comedians working... when she wants to be. Her work on Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock prove this. She has an intellect and an ability to cut through the nonsense to make something far more interesting than the average performer. She's even made one of the best shows of 2015 with Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which manages to turn the average story of the victim into one of the funniest and most uplifting shows of the year. She is great, and I cannot deny her general impact.
Which makes it hard for me to admit that more often than not, I don't care for her work nowadays. I'll just cite Sisters, which came out last weekend. The whole gimmick is that she and reliable collaborator Amy Poehler are sisters who act differently. The comedy is supposed to be lowbrow and show the two behaving badly. This is fine, but considering that this isn't their first time together to feel sadly off (remember Baby Mama?), I am growing skeptical of wanting to support them. Fey may do great work, but I don't know that she has transitioned to mainstream comedy culture with the same success.
As it stands, there's promise here in that it looks to be a film set in a different scenario. She's got an interesting supporting cast along with her. Even if I don't know that she will be able to pull it off, I do hope that she is able to impress me. She used to do it with such a frequency that it was embarrassing. Now, I almost don't know if I care about checking out her work blindly. I'll need the trustworthy review to hook me. I never thought that Fey would become that type of person, but I guess that's how the cards play. I just hope what looks to be a political comedy will actually be done justice, especially as she has actual writers from Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

- Dissection -

I will admit that there's a few things that are initially off putting about this. It's a white comedian going to the middle east to do her duty. While it doesn't look nearly as obnoxious as Rock the Kasbah, it does add a sense of self-righteousness that doesn't quite have a strong impact. It's also weird to see Billy Bob Thornton in another political comedy after this year's Our Brand is Crisis. It's not a problem, but it definitely feels like he's trying to become a new stereotype. With all of this said, I do think that there's a difference between Fey going to Afghanistan and Bill Murray doing similar. When he did it, there was a lot of boisterous nonsense going on that just felt embarrassing. With Fey, I get a better sense that there will be something to say.
Maybe the set up is a little bit dull. Going overseas to have a more interesting life is nothing new. However, the film does have a lot of great jabs at gender politics, especially with help from Margot Robbie (who's likely going to have a great 2016). Even if the trailer has a familiar editing style, I do think that there's a lot of playful jabs that get the story across while also giving a sense of purpose to why it needed to be made. Fey's character in general seems rather compelling, especially since she's more observant than ignorant. Even the supporting players have their own moments throughout the trailer.
I don't know that this is an entirely effective sell, but it does give me relief that it is at least going for something more ambitious. Fey's commentary, even during the final moments, are quite funny and reflect why she is generally interesting. The question is now if this will be one of her funny films or one of those that just feel off. I want it to be the former, I always do. Even the somewhat clever title gives me some sense that maybe this will be enjoyable, even if I don't think it will be her best work.

- One Sentence Sell -

Tina Fey goes to Afghanistan for a political comedy that sees her challenging gender norms and social differences alike.

- Trove or Trash -

It may not be an amazing trailer, but at least it makes me want to see it more than I did beforehand. That alone is a sign of success.

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