Film Review: “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot”

The trailer for “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” gives the impression that it is a comedy about war zone journalism; it isn’t.

Tina Fey portrays middle-aged news writer Kim Baker, who decides to venture outside of her comfort zone because she feels that she’s been moving backwards by remaining in the same place. She decides to take a short, three-month assignment in Kabul, Afghanistan, to regain control and focus over her life. But the draw of the “Kabubble,” as the film calls it, keeps her there for longer than planned.

Her “fixer” Fahim Ahmadzai (Christopher Abbott), and veteran war reporter Tanya Vanderpoel (Margot Robbie) help her learn the ropes. In Afghanistan, she has to adjust quickly or risk getting in legal trouble in the Islamic nation. Abbott and Robbie explain and show the viewpoints of a local and a foreigner respectively, while helping her adjust to life and the customs around her. Films that take place in foreign countries with different customs sometimes romanticize the cultures or show them as “other,” but the directors, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, do a wonderful job of presenting the culture and avoid passing judgement. A great example of this is in a scene where Fey speaks to the women who want the U.S. Marines to stop rebuilding the well in their village. They lead Fey to a room where the women lift their burqas and speak freely. However, the audience only sees Fey’s face, and doesn’t hear the women speak.

Sometimes the film is a story about a woman finding herself in a world she never imagined herself in, rather similar to “Eat, Pray, Love.” Other times it is a war story. The adage goes “there is no place for women in war,” but the film does more than just portray this older female journalist as out of her depth. It shows how war isn’t a place for anyone, regardless of age, sex or occupation; “That’s why we drink, do drugs, and shag strangers in bathrooms,” Robbie’s character explains.

Carlock tries too hard to make the movie funny; instead, the film is a rollercoaster of comedy, drama and poorly-timed jokes that make the tone inconsistent. While there are ways to inject humor into more serious scenes, like the levity incorporated into the therapy episodes of “Good Will Hunting,” this film didn’t use it. However, Fey’s performance stands out through those scenes to keep the narrative interesting, especially when there are tonal issues.

As her character becomes increasingly addicted to the adrenaline of reporting in the region and normalized to the violence, she comes to understand how drugs and partying act as coping mechanism. Her progression from fish-out-of-water to desensitized reporter is completely natural and believable. Even when the tone of the scenes is disjointed, her character shines through and recenters the narrative through her credible reactions.
The end of the movie is gripping, as she moves forward with her life and realizes that real change happens from within. With the compelling storyline and cast, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” is an engaging drama.

Photo Courtesy of The Herald Extra