Friday, January 13, 2017

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (2016) ***1/2

Actor Christopher Abbott (Charlie from the show “Girls) has the most poignant line in the movie “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.” When his young, Afghan character Fahim says, “I was a doctor,” speaking in the past tense, it speaks volumes about what a mess Afghanistan is. There is simply no place on earth where it is normal for someone with medical training to be working as a translator. The film never makes clear whether he was displaced from his profession by the Taliban or by the American invasion. As one injured soldier points out later in the film, if you want to start laying blame for the state of things in Afghanistan, you'll have to work your way through Osama bin Laden, to the Taliban, to the Russians, and all the way back to the British Empire.

Fortunately, this film is not constituted wholly of such serious stuff. More comedy than drama, the movie hums with the wry humor that Tina Fey brings to all her projects. Fey plays Kim Baker, an American journalist who,bored with her life as a news copy writer, accepts an assignment as a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan. There she finds that in addition to danger, there is opportunity, both professional and sexual. As fellow reporter Tanya Vanderpoel (Margot Robbie) explains to Kim, “In New York, you were a 6 or a 7. Here you're a 9, maybe 9 ½.” In addition to having her pick of men, Kim gets on-camera opportunities that she never had back home. Reporting by day and partying by night, Kim finds love with another reporter (Martin Freeman) and friendship with her translator Fahim. Always, there is the danger of kidnappings or bombs, or just the danger of getting swallowed up in a place where the unacceptable comes to seem normal.

With poor box office and mixed reviews, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” never seemed to find its audience. I think people were expecting either a straight-up comedy or a much sharper satire. Many reviewers seemed irked that the film didn't do more with some of its serious content, such as the horrors of war or the plight of women in the Middle East. It's true, the film never pokes too hard at any of these targets. Rather than the weakness of a script afraid to offend its audience, I found this to be the strength of a personal story that didn't give in to some tidy, preachy narrative. The film is based on the memoir “The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” by Kim Barker. The story is not about discrimination or military incompetence, it's about Kim and her own personal experience, and the biggest lesson she learns is that you have to embrace change. She made a change when she moved to Afghanistan, and after a few years there she realized she needed to make a change again and move back to the U.S. It's not about setting up the perfect life, then maintaining that. Success comes from embracing the changes that inevitably come your way, or, as one injured veteran tells Kim, “Embrace the suck, and move the f--- forward.”

3.5 stars out of 5

No comments: