Movie review: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
WTF: What the Tina Fey? It’s a feature-length Liz Lemon playing a war correspondent in Afghanistan
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
Starring: Tina Fey, Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman, Alfred Molina, Billy Bob Thornton
Directed by: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Running time: 105 minutes
MPAA Rating: Restricted
By Katherine Monk
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot signals WTF weirdness, but this new Tina Fey movie inspired by the life of New York Times journalist Kim Barker and her book, Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan, doesn’t seem weird enough.
The whole point of the exercise was to pull people into the abnormal state of ambient war via a normal character. In this case, it’s Kim Baker, a librarian-like news writer at a major network who is offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: to become a war correspondent by shipping out to Afghanistan for three months.
Even without Tina Fey, the fish-out-of-water comedy feels like an approaching tidal wave. With Tina Fey, it becomes Liz Lemon in Kabul – which isn’t far from where Barker was coming from when she wrote her memoir.
She said she felt like Fey’s character from 30 Rock. So while Fey has yet to reveal a great deal of thespian range, this particular role plays to her comfort zone in every way.
Baker is on the introverted and obsessive side, with a passive-aggressive approach to conflict. She wants to do the right things by others, but often gets seduced by the opportunity to do something for herself first.
She’s human. She’s recognizable. And because it’s Fey, she comes with her own comic tool kit containing a self-deprecating screwdriver and a wrench of vulnerability. We know who this is, and because so much of this feels slightly familiar, you can feel the comic rigging. The whole thing feels booby-trapped. Almost every single expectation is greeted with a smile and a squeeze of gunfire as a rim shot.
Kim lands in Kabul wide-eyed and naïve with a bright orange duffle bag and a permanent look of comic bewilderment. She makes friends with the other reporters at the “hotel” – a protected facility where security and on-air talent mingle, and drink, and exchange war stories in a slurry game of one upmanship.
She hangs out with Tanya (Margot Robbie), a reporter for a rival network, and Iain (Martin Freeman), a Scottish photographer who loves playing the obnoxious flirt, but still has charm. They teach her the ropes. They help her when they can. They use her when they can.
It’s an opportunistic environment where the normal moral codes no longer apply. It’s where you can sleep with anyone tonight and it doesn’t matter because you could be dead tomorrow. It’s a state of mind where walking over body parts becomes part of the background and reconnecting with the banal everydayness of peace becomes inconceivable, if not downright irritating.
Kim starts as a lightweight without ego but ends up addicted to the burst of adrenaline that comes with escaping death on a daily basis and getting strokes for every bullet dodged – as long as she got footage.
You almost expect more Liz Lemon moments and a laugh track, but directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Focus) never let us sit back too long in the boardroom. They keep us out in the field, recreating Kabul in New Mexico, showing us an otherworldly landscape – dotted by war movie cliché, and chick flick plot twists.
At the end of the day, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot isn’t so much about the role of reporters at war, or how networks affect reality by choosing what to reflect back – or not. And it’s not about America’s sketchy dealings in the Middle East.
It’s a mid-life crisis movie that looks at late transformations with Tina Fey as the reticent little bloom that finally buds into a brassy pants journo. Because it’s hard to dislike Fey’s low-key comic style that lands halfway between deadpan and goofball, and because co-stars Margot Robbie (Wolf of Wall Street) and Billy Bob Thornton are having a visibly good time, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a pleasant distraction – a war movie in three acts, and a chick flick in a flack jacket – but nothing close to gallows humour, or haunting gravitas.
THE EX-PRESS, March 4, 2016