Adaptation Comedy

'Whiskey Tango Foxtrot' Film Review: War-time dramedy puts Tina Fey on the front lines

March 4, 2016Ben MK

Not to be confused with the 2014 book of the same name, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot draws from journalist Kim Barker's "The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan," her bestselling 2011 memoir in which she recounted her experiences as a rookie reporter covering America's war on terror from the front lines.

Playing it fast and loose with the facts, the big screen version proves to be a refreshing change of pace from ultra-serious war story adaptations such as Lone Survivor, American Sniper and Michael Bay's recent 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, casting Tina Fey as a fictitious version of Barker named Kim Baker, a fed-up New York City TV news producer who decides to dramatically shake up her life, leaving behind her boyfriend (Josh Charles) and the relative comfort of her desk job for the war zone that is Kabul, Afghanistan circa 2003.

Once there, Kim finds herself joining the other foreign correspondents out to report on American's "forgotten war," including freelance photographer (and potential love interest) Iain MacKelpie (Martin Freeman) and fellow journalist (and potential rival) Tanya Vanderpoel (Margot Robbie). Paired with a local fixer (Christopher Abbott) and a hunky bodyguard (Stephen Peacocke), Kim quickly discovers just how different life is on the other side of the world, as she's embedded with a U.S. Marines unit commanded by a snarky General (Billy Bob Thornton).

Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Focus) and written by Robert Carlock (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), Whiskey Tango Foxtrot manages to uphold a good balance of both humor and drama, with most of the comedy front-loaded within the story's first two acts, as we watch Kim stumble and fumble as she tries to acclimatize to her new reality. In this sense, the early portions of the movie are very much in keeping with your typical fish-out-of-water story, except with lessons about battlefield bathroom etiquette and Afghan Persian curse words.

As the film progresses, however, things gradually become more and more serious, with Kim battling her network bosses for airtime while the war begins to hit too close to home. Still, even with the tonal shift, the movie never forgets its funny bone, and the dramatic tension is regularly punctuated with moments of levity, whether it's Thornton's always-hilarious quips, one team member's fixation on man-on-donkey porn, or a recurring bit in which Kim is relentlessly propositioned by a high-ranking Afghan politician (Alfred Molina).

Themes of sexism and women's rights also crop up throughout, and the movie's final act seems to both fall back on and put its own twist on familiar war movie tropes. However, none of that — nor the casting of some non-Afghan actors as Afghan characters — takes the spotlight away from the film's core focus, which is the empowerment of its lead character. Yes, for better or worse, what Whiskey Tango Foxtrot ultimately boils down to is Kim's journey of self-discovery. That being said, the movie is no Eat Pray Love — and let's face it, that's probably a good thing.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot releases March 4th, 2016 from Paramount Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of R for pervasive language, some sexual content, drug use and violent war images. Its runtime is 1 Hr. 52 Mins.

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