Tina Fey brings humor to the battlefield
It’s hard to believe sometimes, but it’s been more than a decade since the war in Afghanistan began. The latest movie, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot,” goes back to the beginning — in 2003 — and captures the experiences of Kim Baker as she reported from Afghanistan for the first few years of the war there.
When you’re making a movie about life on the battlefield, you don’t generally think of Tina Fey. But Fey and her partner, Robert Carlock, took on the task of adapting Baker’s experience into a movie. Fey takes the lead role, with Carlock writing the screenplay based on Baker’s own book.
The result is something that is a mixture of a more serious movie and the kind of offbeat, delightful comedy viewers expect from Fey and Carlock — the creators of “30 Rock” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.”
Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite come together in a perfect way.
The film starts out with Baker (Fey) working in New York, plying her reporting skills to scripts on stories that might be important but don’t gain a lot of traction. She feels stuck in a rut. And when the opportunity to become a war correspondent comes her way, Baker feels like she needs to take it.
She leaves the safety of New York and heads to Afghanistan. It’s only supposed to be a couple months, but she leaves her safe life and her boyfriend (Josh Charles) behind. Soon, those months turn into something longer, and before she knows it Baker’s old life is gone. Her boyfriend leaves her and New York no longer feels like “home.”
While in Afghanistan Baker navigates the local culture, befriending a local government official (Alfred Molina) and U.S. Marine commander (Billy Bob Thornton). In addition she learns the ropes from a fellow reporter, Tanya (Margo Robbie), and begins a friendship with a war photographer, Iain (Martin Freeman).
After some time in Afghanistan, Baker begins to take stock of her life and priorities. She’s changed by her experience, but she’s left to ponder what direction she should head in.
The trailers for this film center on the comedy aspect. It’s not that this film isn’t funny, it’s just that comedy isn’t the only aim here. This is about something more.
Director Glenn Ficarra and John Requa are no strangers to this blend. In the past they’ve collaborated on “Focus,” which starred Will Smith, and the comedy “Crazy, Stupid Love,” which starred Ryan Gosling and Steve Carell. From a tone standpoint, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” feels a lot like those films. There’s amusing moments, serious moments and a lot of time spent on relationships.
What makes it work is the performers. Fey is great in the lead role. She’s a gifted comedienne, but she has a broader range than that. She showcases some of that talent in this role.
I also liked the supporting cast. This feels like a good part for Robbie, who gets to stretch out of some of the girlfriend roles she’s been in during previous films. And Freeman is great here, too. He plays well off Fey, and their relationship is one of the highlights of the film.
The problem is that “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” lacks some punch and focus in terms of the story. It seems, at times, like it wants to make a commentary on the war in Afghanistan and on the type of personality of the reporters who spend their lives chasing battlefield stories. But in the end it doesn’t really say anything meaningful about either thing.
It does accomplish its aim of being about a woman who’s feeling lost and finds herself in the trenches in Afghanistan, but there’s little in the way of closure for that kind of narrative, either.
“Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” is an enjoyable film, but one that doesn’t really stick with you after. It just sort of exists, spins a little yarn, has some powerful emotional moments and wraps up. It’s OK, but it falls short of being great.
“Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” has been rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for pervasive language, some sexual content, drug use and violent war images. Enter with caution.
Two stars out of four.
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