Given the fact that Whiskey Tango Foxtrot comes from the wittiest woman in showbiz, Tina Fey, and Saturday Night Live producer, Lorne Michaels, the film is decidedly more serious than one would expect. In fact, the film—which is loosely adapted from foreign correspondent Kim Barker’s memoir, The Taliban Shuffle—often feels like a hodgepodge of docudrama and the typical blockbuster comedy. Still, this hodgepodge works. While Whiskey certainly offers more substance than the last film Fey starred in, the frivolous and goofy Sisters, there are still plenty of laughs to be had.
The movie follows New Yorker Kim Barker, a journalist fed up with her humdrum life as a newsroom copyist, as she impetuously accepts an assignment covering a post-9/11 Kabul. What awaits the ill-prepared Barker in Afghanistan is an oddly insular world of foreign correspondents all competing for the next big story. After becoming fast friends with Tanya Vanderpoel, the only other female journalist in Kabul, Barker is soon pulled into the Kabul journalist bubble, or “Kabubble.” Stuck in a rotation of firefights and drunken frat-esque parties, and struggling to uncover appealing subject matter, Barker once again finds herself sifting through her life for meaning.
Rookie war reporter Barker is played by Tina Fey, who—as always—steals the show with her signature blend of wit, sarcasm, and sincerity. Starring alongside Fey is Aussie actress Margot Robbie, who does a terrific job as Barker’s gal pal, the beautiful and voracious Tanya. As the lovely Fahim, Barker’s “Afghan” fixer, Christopher Abbott offers a remarkably sweet performance. Other notable faces include Alfred Molina as corrupt Afghan prime minister, Ali Massoud Sadiq, Billy Bob Thornton as the stony General Hollanek, and Martin Freeman as brass Scottish journalist Iain MacKelpie. Though both Abbott and Molina are great, the only complaint here is that it would have been nice to see their roles filled by actual Afghan actors.
Above all, Whiskey does a great job at maintaining a light tone and providing enough laughs to balance the more serious notes throughout. What adds depth to the humor is that the film also serves as a mild contemplation on the War on Terror following the terrorist attacks of September 11. Though the film steers clear of becoming too political, Barker repeatedly asks about the shift in attention from Afghanistan to Iraq, and what that means for the American forces stationed in Kabul. As she attempts to find a story that will garner viewership for her network, Barker also addresses the injustices faced by women within the Islamic country, as well as the oppression posed by the Taliban. However, with the fervor over the war in Afghanistan and Iraq cooling, one can’t help but feel that the movie is just a few years too late. Still, as attention has shifted over to other global crises, such as ISIS, the injustices and struggles from the film are always relevant and serve as a humbling reminder.
Ultimately, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is simultaneously entertaining and touching, and definitely worth a watch.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot opens nationwide on Friday, March 4, 2016.