Friday, March 4, 2016

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Tina Fey's second movie in three months is more serious than Sisters was, but I found myself liking it more. One of the issues I had with Sisters was Fey playing against type, taking on the role of the slightly dumber and carefree of the two siblings. In Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, she's back to playing it smart, but with that combination of partial naïveté that was key to Liz Lemon's appeal.

Loosely based on the book The Taliban Shuffle, written by real-life print journalist Kim Barker, Fey plays Kim Baker, a copywriter for a TV news organization who's in a personal and professional rut. When the brass decides to send more reporters to Afghanistan, they offer the position to all of the "unmarried and childless" employees. Baker decides to forgo crying about her status, and embrace the opportunity as a welcome challenge.

The first half of the movie is a bit typical, with fish-out-of-water comedy showing Baker getting used to life in a war-torn and chauvinistic country. She befriends a fellow female reporter, played by Margot Robbie, and learns that in the "Kabulbubble" she rates a lot higher on the "attractiveness" scale, due to the lack of visible females around them. She also learns it's a bad idea to carry around a bright orange backpack when embedded with a troop of Marines, (headed by a perfectly cast Billy Bob Thornton).

Eventually Baker acclimates, and begins to crave the adrenaline of reporting and finding that next story. This often means she does stupid things, but some of those stupid things allow her to uncover stories male reporters wouldn't be able to. And it's that feminist thread that ultimately saved the movie for me. Yes, she ends up falling into bed with a Scottish photographer (Martin Freeman), but that story ends up going in a direction completely opposite from the way a traditional romance would.

The movie is not without its problems. The fact that the English-speaking Afghan characters are in fact played by white actors is quite troubling, (even if they're all pretty good, especially Chris Abbott, who is unrecognizable as Barker's local fixer, Fahim). The politics of the early 2000's war aren't delved into much, and the movie has less to say about it than it does the politics of reporting, so it won't rank up there with the best war comedies. But I think it will rank up there with Tina Fey's better movies, and as proof that comedy isn't the only thing she can do well.

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