By Darin Skaggs
The other day I bought my ticket for Glen Ficara and John Requa’s Whiskey Tango Foxtrot and took my seat, fairly excited about the latest project of the team that brought us 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. It started off pretty well, nice character beats, fast editing to grab our attention, but as the movie went on I found myself laughing only at a few jokes while others I did not find all that funny. Moments of emotion got to me through certain plot points and a good performance by Tina Fey was nice to see. The whole movie eventually fell into a rut of familiarity and overused story beats. My verdict of the film came out as it being a decent, but most likely a soon-to-be forgotten film. However after giving the whole situation some thought I found myself satisfied with my experience. Now so far in 2016 I have seen a number of amazing films like Hail Caesar!, The Witch and 10 Cloverfield Lane. My knee jerk reaction after viewing those films was wishing that every film would be as great as them and that people would just give it their all and make great art. It makes me wonder the impossible and implausible situation of studios in a boot camp type scenario picking out only the best of the best with their filmmakers. If they did get to that point and every single movie to come out was the greatest it would be exhausting to deal with. Maybe there is a place for the mediocre and the slightly above average.
I think of it as if every painting ever painted was looked with the affection given to the Mona Lisa, then we as a society would not only be exhausted from all the glory, but might also get bored with paintings in general. Honestly the majority of art, whether it be paintings, movies, TV or music, is mediocre. There is however value in the majority of them as well, and that includes the ones that are passable as whole projects. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is nowhere near great, but there are parts of it that do rise above the occasion. There is a friendship between two characters that feels real, this one is important because it has to end due to some real life concerns for one side’s safety. It is heartbreaking and well done. Other relationships seemed forced no matter where the story takes them whether it be closer or further away. The one I talk about here feels genuine. Their final moment near the end of the film is a perfect for them even if it is a continuation to get across themes the script cannot fully find a way to get across.
Those moments affected me, but the rest of the movie was lack luster. Some jokes were fine, but it was surely a hit or miss comedy. That was just fine with me. Without the middle man in the art world we all might go crazy. I do not get angry when a movie is bad unless it is lazy about it. Last year I watched a movie called The Duff which is the definition of lazy filmmaking. Every plot point you expect to happen in this High School love story happens. Every punchline for the jokes in the film you will see coming. It is a movie I find to be pure mediocrity that it makes me enraged by its poor attempt to have anything original. Even my least favorite film of last year, Cameron Crowe’s Aloha was not as infuriating due to a crazy scene where Bradley Cooper types in some codes and takes down Bill Murray’s satellite from space. It comes out of nowhere and is my least favorite film of the year because it does not work with its bad love triangle plot. If you do not try anything new than is there even a point to your piece? Whiskey Tango Foxtrot tries. It tries to talk about feminism in the army, it tries to deal with mid-life crisis and the dangers of the current war. It tries all those things unfortunately finding itself a victim of clichés. I don’t even blame the screenwriter Robert Carlock. I know he has done good work, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt season one is a top notch season of television in my book and like I said I could see all the effort he gives certain parts of the script. It also is a film that has great performances by people, especially Tina Fey and the cinematographer Xavier Grobet finds some really effective and beautiful shots.
The movies that are not critically acclaimed or bashed are also good as a break from the chaos. There are not many people that will fall in love with Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, nor will they find themselves hating it. There are always exceptions to the rules, but in this case I am guessing those people are limited to very few. Other films are praised for their greatness where the majority loves them like last year’s Inside Out. Everyone I heard loved it, or merely really enjoyed it. Other films like Fantastic Four were destroyed critically, the best thing people had to say that that first half was just fine. Now the loved films will find themselves immortal always being discovered by up and coming film fans and praised by those fortunate enough to see it when it came out. The ones no one like will live in infamy always being failures as prime examples as what not to do when making a film. There is the movies that fight with both sides of the spectrum, the movies that are divisive with film fans. For me two prime examples are Terrence Malik’s The Tree of Life and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s The Revenant. With The Tree of Life I find a great passion for it, I think it is one of the most beautiful movies ever made and so I also know there is a great deal of respectable people who cannot stand the film. The Revenant however I hate passionately, I think it is pleased with how it’s made and big headed, while others love it. These cause arguments, which could go off the rails but in an ideal world would lead to great intellectual debates on if these films are important and worthy of all the praise. I would not shy any movie nerd away from these films, I would gladly suggest they see both.
Then what do the perfectly decent films offer. Most likely they will be forgotten in time and only talked about the month after its release. When those who saw it are reminded about it they will say they liked it and cannot remember anything about it, most likely my eventual relationship with Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. What do they offer? I would offer the opinion they are breaks in movie lovers world for an enjoyable but nowhere near memorable experience as a sort of stepping stone into the next film. They either gain a continuing passion for film or let them lose hope for the future of movies. An overload of mediocre product could be dangerous, but every once and a while I think it could be a helpful dosage between the masterful and the dreadful.