Director(s): Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Starring: Tina Fey, Margot Robbie, Martin Freeeman
Written by Rhys Bowen Jones
Going into ‘Whiskey Tango Foxtrot’, I didn’t really know what to expect. I knew it was billed as a comedy-drama, and from experience, you can’t really go wrong with a Tina Fey-led vehicle, but having watched ‘Sisters’ not too long before this, I was somewhat hesitant. Having said that, I can happily say ‘Whiskey Tango Foxtrot’ doesn’t disappoint, and gives Tina Fey a chance to show off both her comedic and dramatic chops.
‘Whiskey Tango Foxtrot’ tells the story of Kim Baker (Fey), a journalist stuck in her cubicle day after day, who gets shipped out to cover the war in Afghanistan. It’s atually a true story, adapted from the real Kim Baker’s book The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The film spans roughly a three year period, during which time Kim deals with the trials and tribulations of homesickness, war, love, friendship, business, and everything in between.
First and foremost, ‘Whiskey Tango Foxtrot’ covers all the bases when it comes to being a comedy-drama. Being an American in a foreign country, there are very funny scenes early on, where Kim hurls insults in Dari that don’t quite translate into what she intended to say, and Kim finds herself in your typical fish-out-of-water situations, which Fey really excels in. Martin Freeman’s Iain MacKelpie also has his fair share of one-liners, spoken with venom (in his very impressive Scottish accent), normally involving a swear word or six. The set up and punchline (40 minutes later) of Iain calling someone a “wee c***” is particularly satisfying, from both a humour and story standpoint.
Then, conversely, being in a warzone, drama is never too far away as Kim deals with the aftermath of an attack, tracking a potential warlord for a news story, and becoming too attached to soldiers in the battlefield. Fey has come a very long way from her ‘Saturday Night Live’ and ’30 Rock’ days, as she proves herself to be a very fine dramatic actress. You empathise with her struggles, you become attached to her new, temporary friends and you really feel the effects of the crushing goodbyes she must (regularly) endure. I was very impressed, and I hope we see more of this Tina Fey in the future.
Across the board there are impressive elements on show. It was written very well, the narrative progresses over the three years at a solid pace and there are plenty of plot elements involved to keep things moving. It is shot competently – if not fairly straightforwardly – and it has a nice appropriate soundtrack to compliment the events on screen. A New Year’s Eve party to the sound of Jump Around by House of Pain provides a nice bout of nostalgia, conjuring memories of ‘Mrs Doubtfire’. Further, being a war film at heart, there are a couple of genuinely tense and well-shot shoot-out sequences, several surprising explosions, and Kim even gets embroiled in a near riot at one point. ‘Whiskey Tango Foxtrot’ does the little things very well, reminding us consistently – and respectively – of the environment in which Kim finds herself. Moments of happiness are interrupted by an explosion above ground, or a couple holding hands is rudely interrupted by a local’s fury at their disregard for Afghanistan’s conservative nature.
All that said, this film lives and dies with its characters. Fey anchors the whole thing brilliantly, but there are great turns from Freeman, Billy Bob Thornton and Margot Robbie – who plays Kim’s main rival for stories whilst she’s in Afghanistan. I’ll be honest, any film that allows Margot Robbie a lot of screen time is instantly okay in my book.
‘Whiskey Tango Foxtrot’ is actually a very good film and I would recommend this to anyone who is looking for a comedy that has a little more depth to it. This is a film with interesting characters, and one which is set in a normally unfunny environment. For that, it deserves a lot of credit.