WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT
Director: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Starring: Tina Fey, Martin Freeman, Margot Robbie, Alfred Molina, Billy Bob Thornton, Christopher Abbott
Tina Fey furthers her attempt at having a big screen career by taking on the true story of journalist Kim Barker. In the film she’s been renamed Kim Baker. Why the one letter difference? I’m not sure. In 2003, she was working as a producer for a television news station. They were looking at making cuts and shuffling things around. Kim was unmarried and childless and was the most vulnerable to be sent overseas to Afghanistan. She needed a change from her daily routine and thought it was a good reason to restart her life. She leaves behind a boyfriend (Charles) under the impression her time away would be limited as it started out being a three-month assignment.
Once she arrivals in Kabul, she realizes she is very much out of her element. The air quality is poor, the living conditions are brutal, and the few women there are treated as lustful objects for the soldiers. There is a running gag about how in America she would be a 4, but in Kabul she’s a 7. She makes friends with Tanya Vanderpoel (Robbie), another female reporter, whom she looks up to and is one of the reasons why she is over in Kabul. Tanya’s the pretty blonde who is always camera ready as opposed to Kim, the 4. As the days, months, and now years pass on, Kim grows accustomed to life in Kabul. She becomes addicted to the adrenaline rush that comes with being in a war zone and starts a relationship with Iain MacKelpie (Freeman), a Scottish photographer who’s also stationed over there for the lengthy duration.
The film is loosely based on Barker’s book “The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan”. The real Kim was a journalist for the Chicago Tribune, but in the movie she’s a TV producer. She has also stated that there was never a romance with Iain MacKelpie, but they are good friends. She is perfectly content with the casting of Tina Fey. Who wouldn’t be happy if Fey played them in a movie? I suppose Sarah Palin, for one. Fey is a pretty smart casting choice in order to get the tone of the book to translate to the screen. In fact, it was a New York Times book critic who described Kim as “a sort of Tina Fey character” in his review of the book. Fey is also credited with being one of the film’s producers along with Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels.
Those aren’t the only Tina Fey connections in the movie. Robert Carlock, who has frequently worked with her on 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, wrote the screenplay. It’s here in the structure of the film and how it all pans out that I started to lose interest. I haven’t read the book, but it feels like we’re going through diary entries of Kim’s time in Afghanistan. It takes too long to figure out what the drive is in this story and what the central conflict is for Kim. As Kim’s time in Kabul carries on over the course of the three years, I didn’t always know if Kim was fighting for her voice to be heard, if she was fighting to start anew, or if she was fighting the network and the sexism that came to play with Margot Robbie’s character. By the end, you do realize there is a lot of growth with Kim and Fey makes that happen, but it’s a slow process to get there.
In one way, it’s a very different kind of film for Fey. It’s a “dramedy” more in tune with her films Admission or This Is Where I Leave You versus her slapstick style in Sisters or Saturday Night Live. When you think about it, it’s right up her alley with the satirical approach she is known for having with her comedy. She brings her sharp sense of humor we all know and love. There is a M*A*S*H* type of vibe with it. The title is military code for “WTF or What the F***”, but it’s never explained in the movie. It took me some time to get into the groove with the tone. I wanted Fey to be the only funny one to counter the serious nature of the warzone, but many of the other actors are playing for laughs to show off the ridiculous aspects of the situation. Alfred Molina is a prime example as he plays Afghan leader Ali Massoud Sadiq who continues to makes advances on her.
The love story between Martin Freeman and Tina Fey will warrant mixed reactions from audiences. You’ll either buy into it or see it as a cheap unnecessary plot device. At first they seem like an unlikely pair, but Fey and Freeman have great chemistry together. Both are such strong comedians that can play awkward moments to perfection. I’d love to see them in a quirky rom-com together.
The directing team of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa also brought us films like Focus, I Love You Philip Morris, and Crazy, Stupid, Love. The latter is the best one so far in their filmography. I am generally a big fan of Tina Fey’s. She is one of the funniest and smartest women working in Hollywood. The film acts as a strong vehicle for her to continue to show off her range and her abilities to carry a film without relying on people like Amy Poehler or Alec Baldwin. I don’t blame her for my mixed reactions for this film. I typically like Robert Carlock’s writing, but I think something got lost in translation with bringing the book to the big screen. Kim’s story may just make for a better book out of her own words. The idea of shaping it for a movie and where to take liberties with the truth may be the cause of the structural disconnect.
Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? It’s not the movie you think it will be, but if you like current events you will take in interest in Kim’s story.
RATING: 2.5 out of 5 TICKET STUBS