Overview: A woman who is accustomed to a quiet life at a desk accepts a position as a war correspondent in Afghanistan and begins to redefine her definition of normalcy. Based on the memoir The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan, by Kim Barker. Paramount Pictures; 2016; Rated R; 112 minutes.
False Advertising: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is one of those films that gives away most of the funniest jokes in the trailers, but it is also one of those rare films that benefits from this type of exposure that usually disappoints audiences. This film has been marketed primarily as a comedy, where Tina Fey plays another Liz Lemon-esque character who clumsily and sarcastically fumbles her way through a wartime reporting gig in a foreign country. It’s a pleasant surprise, however, when the picture that’s painted during the previews turns out not to be the film audiences expected to see and Kim Baker is tough, resilient, and vulnerable.
WTF: This story proves to be less about a woman who provides situational comedy while stepping out of her comfort zone and more about a woman who craves an escape from mediocrity and finds herself comforted by the trials and hardships of a new environment. She also discovers that any way of life, after a while, can begin to feel normal. Maybe I’m a bit biased about this topic, because I had a close family member who began to feel more at home on deployment than in his own house, but I think this message is an important one, and it’s delivered with care and intellect and respect in Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. When a person is taken out of their element and placed in an extreme environment, what seems at first to be complete culture shock can transform into something familiar when enough exposure is provided, while the risks and the element of danger and adrenaline can be an addictive high.
The New Normal: A sobering message doesn’t have to come with all doom and gloom though, and this film excels when it blends the comedic and dramatic elements of the story. The humor never feels forced or shoehorned in to an otherwise somber moment, but rather provides an added element of reality to the life these people are living. Humor can be found anywhere, in any situation, and writer Robert Carlock measures it rather efficiently with his screenplay. Tina Fey and Martin Freeman as Ian MacKelpie are both standouts, perhaps because these characters face the same journey together, and both take their paths with a certain amount of self-awareness that makes them both successful and a bit dangerous, which plays to both actors’ strengths of dry humor and subtle dramatic accessibility. The balance of this self awareness and the weight of its message are the biggest reasons Whiskey Tango Foxtrot works, and it doesn’t hurt that viewers get to laugh some along the way.