War: WTF is it good for?


Photo credit: Frank Masi

Tina Fey, who plays Kim Baker in “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot,” lunched with author Kim Barker prior to taking on the role. 

By Film Critic

“Whiskey Tango Foxtrot,” the film based on war reporter Kim Barker’s acclaimed memoir, “The Taliban Shuffle,” is an explosively entertaining, feminist war farce from “30 Rock” and “Saturday Night Live” scribe Robert Carlock. Featuring a scintillating cast including Tina Fey, Margot Robbie, Billy Bob Thornton, Alfred Molina and Martin Freeman, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” puts an energetic spin on the traditional war movie genre.

During the film’s opening moments, Kim Baker, played by Fey, taps away at her keyboard from within a cubicle flooded by fluorescent lights. With purpose, she places a bottle of dietary supplements for women older than 40 onto the desk beside her. This subtle, hilarious characterization suggesting she has settled into middle age speaks volumes.

Shortly thereafter, Baker is swept into a meeting in which single, childless reporters are asked to volunteer to become war correspondents in Afghanistan. Several weep, but Baker, with an acerbic smirk, flings herself into the position.

This forms the crux of the film’s narrative. Seeking to escape the mundane routines of her job, Baker—a spunky, middle-aged reporter—kisses her mildly depressive boyfriend goodbye and boards a flight for the Middle East. As the plane nears its destination, it descends by way of a stomach-churning “corkscrew maneuver,” apparently designed to evade missiles that could be fired at the aircraft.

The plot follows suit, and we are introduced to a dizzying world of foreign intrigue, sexual shenanigans and colorful characters.

In the mind-boiling heat of Kabul—referred to by the characters as “The Kabubble”—the only sound louder than the throbbing dance music is the unending backdrop of gunfire and dropping bombs.

“Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” is less aimed at commenting on political issues than saying to hell with the entire situation at home and abroad. Seen through a frame of booze-soaked celebration, dark humor and sexual entanglement, the absurdity of both the war and Baker’s trivial, white-collar life in the United States is firmly established.

And while a political statement more focused than that doesn’t emerge, what does come through is the film’s strong feminist bent.

From the get-go, Baker is an independent, empowered woman who makes choices for herself, which drives the plot forward. With hardly a second thought, she leaves her boyfriend behind to pursue her goals in Afghanistan. Even a romantic subplot that develops abroad never hinders Baker’s pursuit of success.

Before long, the hilariously deadpan Marine colonel, Walter Hollanek, played by Billy Bob Thornton, grants Baker a respectful “oorah.”

Against the backdrop of a society in which veiled women are—in the words of Baker—“wrapped up like gifts from Ikea,” her independence becomes more meaningful.

“Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” is, above all else, a crackling black comedy with booze and gunpowder in its veins. However, while the film is a consistent laugh riot, the altogether more volatile, heart-wrenching unrest that courses through the Afghani streets is not forgotten. Several times throughout the film, the hard reality of the situation bleeds through in jarring bursts.

Although not groundbreaking, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” is a strong, fresh, funny and highly watchable film that has managed not to misplace its heart or head. An excellent balance between entertainment and narrative depth has been accomplished. While the central narrative and political backdrop could have been stronger, at its core, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” works best as a side-splitting snapshot of a woman struggling to assert her purpose in the midst of a tragic and puzzling moment in history.