Jacqueline Gualtieri ’18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
When most people think of journalists in Afghanistan, it’s doubtful that they could really understand the true experience of what’s it’s like being placed in a completely different world. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot sets out to try to help people understand the unimaginable, but it does it with a comedic twist.
Kim Baker (Tina Fey) was just a woman working in a cubicle, writing for news broadcasts, until she gets the opportunity to become a journalist, stationed in Afghanistan. Without much thought, and with an eagerness to get out of the rut her life had become, she takes the job and finds herself in a land she doesn’t quite understand.
In the beginning, she fumbles through much of what she does. She is eager to go on assignments, but does so by breaking many of the customs of the land. Over time, she becomes entranced by the land that’s she in and by the work that she’s doing. She starts to see the life that she’s living as a normal life, seemingly forgetting the world that she came from. The love for the land is not what puts her in danger, though. It’s the love for the story that does it.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot was based on the memoir “The Taliban Shuffle” by Kim Barker (check out Emertainment Monthly’s Interview). Keeping this in mind, it’s easy to forgive the fast paced nature of the film. There’s so much to try to squeeze into an hour and fifty minutes. The major issue, though, with trying to squeeze it all in is that’s it’s hard to get a feel for the main character. We don’t really understand much about Kim’s past life besides that she wrote for news broadcasts, has a boyfriend that works a lot, and that she goes to the same gym every day. Within only minutes of the movie’s opening, Kim is already heading to Afghanistan. The reason why could be compelling, but the audience does not find out the real reason until much later in the movie and at that point the reasoning is far less poignant.
Fey balances comedy and drama well throughout the film, considering it could have been very easy to cross a line with this film. The movie strives to make a point, but it also strives to entertain. If Fey went too far into comedy, no point would stand out. If the actress went too far into dramatic territory, she may not be as entertaining. She wasn’t alone in keeping the audience entertained though. Alfred Molina plays Sadiq, a somewhat corrupt official who takes an inappropriate liking to Kim. Sadiq makes a point while also being funny. He’s easy to make fun of, but, at the same time, his character demonstrates the strange relationships Kim is able to have with officials in Afghanistan. She is able to get her story, but just because she gets her story doesn’t mean that she’s respected.
Margot Robbie plays Tanya Vanderpoel, an ambitious journalist and the only other girl in the house full of journalists in Afghanistan, deemed the “fun house.” Tanya is a funny and rather sexual character, but she also serves a purpose on screen besides comedy. She’s what Kim could become. She’s desperate for the story, even if it puts herself and others at risk. Martin Freeman plays Ian MacKelpie, who is perhaps the biggest comedic relief. He’s full of himself, overly sexual, and ultimately does whatever he wants. Freeman plays him so well, making him incredibly likeable, despite his many flaws. He, too, though, is there for more than comedy as his character demonstrates the very real danger journalists have to face, just by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
All of these characters are strong, but the glue that really holds them together is Christopher Abbott’s character. Fahim is Kim’s “fixer.” He serves as her guide and her translator. He gets her interviews and helps her through every process she needs to adjust to the new land and be successful there. He’s got a rather dry sense of humor, but his character is there much less for comedy. In the moments when Kim falters most, Fahim is there to guide her back to who she needs to be. Abbott plays a range of emotions throughout the film and it’s easy for the audience to fall in love with him.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot probably did not do exactly what it set out to do. It did not really teach what it’s like to be a journalist stationed in Afghanistan and it did not teach much about a country that many don’t really understand. It enforced some stereotypes and also managed to disinherit a few others. Striving to entertain and to make a point, the film managed to lean just a bit too far towards the entertaining side, but that’s to be expected and perhaps can be forgiven for that.
Overall Rating: B+
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