A movie I wanted to like more than I did, but still a really noble effort in a time when anything marketed “War Comedy” is likely to be an instant skip-it from a major studio. While other reviewers have chosen to pull out a magnifying glass and scrutinize the film’s every politically incorrect sin, I think it’s more important to judge this movie by the way it plays rather than the best way to write think pieces about it. Otherwise, a movie like this would never get made at all if people were solely focused on cultural sensitivity or at the very least it would be so defanged of any risk that it wouldn’t be funny, and as it is, “WTF” is already too safe more than too risqué.
What Works: The movie is loosely based on the true story of a female journalist who got sent to Afghanistan, and even though it adds quite a few subplots (apparently the romantic subplot, Margo Robbie’s character, and a couple of the action sequences never happened), most people say it gets the spirit of the book right. [Fun fact: the book is called “The Taliban Shuffle” and you might could see why Hollywood execs were skittish to release a comedy with Taliban in the title.] On the other hand, that might also be part of the problem, since the movie feels more than a little episodic, like we’re just watching a series of loosely connected non-fiction articles strung together into a feature with little narrative momenum. Of course, on the other other hand, you could argue that that’s exactly what it feels like to be stationed in a drifting, aimless war like Afghanistan which is why the setting was so ripe for a comedy in the first place.
Again, some of the reviewers have complained about the whitewashed casting of Alfred Molina and Christopher Abbot as Afghans. And sure, maybe they should have cast Abbot’s role with Josh Gad—who actually is of some Afghan heritage—but he does a soulful job, and Molina’s scenes are some of the most interesting in the movie. Plus, I’m not sure there are really dozens of Afghan comedians out there dying to get a small part in a movie making fun of the Taliban, Afghan government, and Islamic fundamentalism. The criticisms of the movie are that it’s focus is too narrow and inside the American-bubble, which may be fair, but at least some of what they’re complaining about is inside that same bubble too.
What Doesn’t Work: One of the biggest problems may be that I chose to devote a paragraph to casting controversies rather than anything that’s actually in the movie. And I’m more than a little soft on this particular film since I would love to see more war comedies, and a revival of the genre. That said, it’s a little disappointing that “WTF” doesn’t take more risks or try to broaden out its initial approach. Instead of delving into interesting supporting characters like Molina or Billy Bob Thornton (as a hilariously gruff but sly General), we get scenes that grow repetitive, and Tina Fey’s central character isn’t really doing the actress any favors.
I truly believe Fey could be a compelling dramatic actress. She has it in her every bit as much as her “Date Night” co-star Steve Carell did in his revelatory “Foxcatcher” work. Still, it must be said that she’s in a rut. Everything she does feels like something she’s done before, and this character is a little too in her comfort zone. It’s a different setting, but she plays it in the same way. Of course, I thought Carell was more than stale before “Foxcatcher” shut me up properly, and I believe Fey is just one right role away from really changing her game. Of course, for more on what that role is, somebody will have to email me, because I’m not giving that away for free…