Have you ever found yourself typing away at the stained and dusty keyboard of your laptop, when you were suddenly struck by the desire to be somewhere else? For some of us, that place might be the country where we spent our semester abroad; for others, it might be our living room back home. I suspect that few of us, if any at all, wish in those moments to be in a war-torn Middle Eastern country on the front line of battle. That’s not exactly how things went down for Kim Baker (played by Tina Fey) in Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, but you get the gist of things.
Set in Afghanistan in the mid-2000s, the film is full of potential, with an immensely talented Fey placed in an undeniably charged setting. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is based on The Taliban Shuffle, a memoir written by current New York Times reporter Kim Baker. It’s unfortunate for movie-goers everywhere that Baker’s memoir was adapted by Robert Carlock, whose background in TV – he writes for Netflix comedy series The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt – seems unsuited to this sort of project. Carlock presents the audience with an all-too-familiar Fey. When I say “familiar Fey,” I mean to say that Baker is nearly identical to virtually every character that Fey has played: Liz Lemon on 30 Rock, Kate Holbrook (I had to Google that one) in Baby Mama … and well, that’s pretty much the only two examples I can think of. But still, it was disappointing to see Fey relegated to the role of a strung-out, kinda-awkward, professionally-focused woman with a personal life in relative shambles.
In Afghanistan, Baker encounters more one-dimensional characters: the quiet, composed and strikingly handsome “Afghan” translator/guide/protector, Fahim (Christopher Abbott), the so-beautiful-it’s-not-believable fellow correspondent, Tanya (Margot Robbie) and the least handsome but most charismatic photographer, Iain (Martin Freeman) who has a cool Scottish accent. Put simply, the movie is full of inevitabilities. Sometimes that’s a good thing – stories are supposed to have fairly reliable arcs. But with Fey involved, predictability seems slightly criminal. We knew that Baker would be a complete fish out of water in the totally restrictive city of Kabul… But wait! She’s going to get the hang of her job and start thriving socially! And, who else could she fall in love with but that charming Scotsman, Iain? The list of unsurprising occurrences is a long one, and I’m sad to say that the film’s lack of originality is not its only problem.
If the film were solely a comedy, it would be, in my eyes, quite similar to the aforementioned Baby Mama, a pretty mediocre comedy where Fey, through her personal comedic brilliance, provided the audience with a few good laughs. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, however, is not just a comedy. Remember that potential that I mentioned earlier? It’s as if the film’s directors and writers were halfway through making a mediocre comedy when they suddenly remembered that they were making a movie set in mid-2000s Afghanistan, where there was an endless list of global, ethical, cultural and moral problems that they could address if they wished to make the film just slightly more nuanced. Alas, halfway through the film, the directors and screenwriters decided to try and cash in on that potential. But they were half a film too late because a movie that is part mediocre comedy and part socially conscious drama makes for one strange movie.
In the parts when Baker was meant to be serious, I found the film difficult to believe. I was nowhere near prepared for any violence or deaths. And the overall portrayal of the Afghan culture was an unfortunate mixture of thoughtful consideration and thoughtless reliance on stereotypes. I mean, the least the movie’s creators could have done was avoid making what, at this point, seems like an impossible mistake in casting Connecticut-born Abbott, as Fahim, the primary Afghan character in the film. The dude is of Italian and Portuguese descendent, for God’s sake.
So yes, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (WTF, for short) was overall a disappointing film. But thanks to All-Campus Entertainment for the free tickets and popcorn and to Hollywood for remaining steadfast in its mission to whitewash the world.