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Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

March 4, 2016
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

About halfway through Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, war correspondent Kim Barker (Tina Fey) tells her Kabul press friends Tanya Vanderpoel (Margot Robbie) and Shakira El-Khoury (Sheila Vand) why she came to Afghanistan. Looking down from her gym’s exercise bike, she saw an imprint on the carpet in front of her, where the bike had once stood. After ten years and uncountable miles peddling that bike, she had literally moved backwards. Her relationship and career weren’t in much better shape, so why not try something radically different?

Kim got the offer in a meeting of all the unmarried, childless news producers in her department — you know, people without a family that would miss them if they got blown up — where she seems to be the oldest one in the room. One young woman across the table breaks down, quietly sobbing at the idea of going to Afghanistan. But while her lack of connections makes Kim in a certain way expendable, it also means she’s free to shake her life up and get out of the rut she’s been in.

So she’s off to “the Kabubble”, as the insular community of multi-national press reporting on the Afghanistan war call themselves. She teams up with a local translator (Christopher Abbott), a security man (Steve Peacocke), and a cameraman (Nicholas Braun), and embeds with a Marine Corps unit under the folksy, no-nonsense Colonel Hollanek (Billy Bob Thornton). She starts making contacts with the likes of up-and-coming politician Ali Massoud Sadiq (Alfred Molina). And she makes friends with other journalists like Tanya, Shakira, and Iain (Martin Freeman), a crude Scottish photographer Tanya advises Kim not sleep with, so of course they’re going to eventually.

This all would be fine for “How Kim Barker Got Her Journalistic Groove Back”, but Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a bit more thoughtful than that. This is, despite the lack of a motorcycle or a sports car, a mid-life crisis story. And while indulging the crisis may feel good, it’s not a realistic long-term plan. I’m sure that it’s possible for some foreign correspondents to strike a healthy balance between their work and the rest of their lives, but Kim clearly loses track of that goal. She grows addicted to her new life, losing control of her decisions as she chases the rush down the rabbit hole of diminishing returns.

This may sound more serious material than we’d expect from Tina Fey, but she uses her humor — along with the screenplay by fellow SNL and 30 Rock writer Robert Carlock — to cut it with some much-needed levity. Crazy, Stupid, Love. directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa help navigate the story between the dual pitfalls of zany comedy and morose drama. It’s certainly a better style on her than Sisters was.

Worth It: yes.
Bechdel-Wallace Test: pass.

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