Even though Liz Lemon has forever stolen my
night cheese heart, I rather fancy Tina Fey’s more serious endeavors. Restraint and genuine comedy suit the pigeonholed goofball well, as Whiskey Tango Foxtrot allows for a deeper, rawer side of Fey. War-torn Afghanistan and investigative journalism make for quite the exotic midlife crisis, but Fey rolls with the punches by utilizing her signature brand of wry, lovable wit. Except, this time she’s not striving for laughs – comedy comes as a defense mechanism, as reality zooms by faster than a Taliban misfire. It takes strength to tackle feelings of wasted time, but dealing with a midlife dilemma during an actual military crisis takes some serious balls (or, lack thereof).
Fey stars as Kim Baker, a real journalist who found herself covering an Afghanistan war that was steadily losing “popularity.” In her memoir, The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Baker details the alcohol-dazed nights that led into politically savage reporting.
Fey, as Baker, brings to life these memories of distant explosions, Taliban ambushes and destroyed water wells, all while chasing that one status-affirming, “winning” story. But with Iraq becoming the more popular Middle Eastern occupation, Baker finds herself fighting for survival, along with her job. Which is worse: death, or workplace boredom? Afghanistan becomes a drug for Baker – a habit she must kick before OD’ing on adrenaline and bullet holes.
Poetically, Baker finds peace in chaos. To a desk-chained news producer, Hell is safely pounding away at teleprompter copy for Botox-faced television personalities to read. Hitting the same stationary bicycle, in the same gym, staring at the same TV, each and every day. Sound familiar? So, instead of buying a shiny new car, Baker flees to Afghanistan for a three-month-turned-three-year stint as a wartime journalist. Not any actress could take to the rigorous perils of terrorist occupied lands, but, luckily, Tina Fey isn’t just any actress.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot offers Fey a chance to leverage steadfast, independent wills against witty, more intellectual humor. Baker navigates Afghanistan alone – not as a sidekick, partner, or “better half.” Fey’s giddy excitement after charging into battle blesses her with a badass, footage-shooting charm. These moments are sweet and empowering, as personal achievement builds a confidence that comes from self-worth, and fiery passion. Fey is woman, hear her roar – but not in a cartoonish, Rosie The Riveter kind of way. Her eat, pray, love, and avoid IEDs regiment, if you will.
Baker’s patriotic duty explores deeper meanings than inner happiness, though. Her local “fixer,” Fahim (Christopher Abbott), calls out an endorphin-spiking need to chase increasingly dangerous leads, as fears of cyclical living make Afghanistan’s insanity seem exciting. Fey’s one-liners are slung hilariously, but her balance between “Oorah” journalism and horrific thoughts of what comes next provides necessary, human dramatics. As a legless veteran (Evan Jonigkeit) tells Baker, all you can do is “embrace the suck, and move the fuck on.” This very notion is what Fey does a splendid job wrestling with for WTF‘s entirety, ensuring that Baker isn’t just some sassy, rookie-phenom reporter who takes the world by storm. Fey establishes depth, and evolves in the most hopeless of locations.
Fey’s supporting cast falls into ranks rather well, from Billy Bob Thorton’s not-so-colloquial wisdom (“The war is like fucking a gorilla, until the gorilla says stop.” Something like that.) to Margot Robbie’s female companionship amidst mostly male reporters.
Thorton plays a Marine General who rides Baker like one of his troops, but warms to her gung-ho attitude, creating a respectfully blunt bond between the two. Robbie plays sexy and proud, as boisterously as she should, and Alfred Molina scores a few chuckles as the high-ranking Ali Massoud Sadiq (offering Baker something mundane, like a glass of water, or a PS4, in the same breath). But it’s Thorton’s constant Southern(?) wisdom that continually delights audiences. Oh, and Martin Freeman as a saucy Scottish love interest? Mr. Watson has the cocky alcoholism down pat, searing accent and all.
Directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa navigate Kabul’s dusty streets with a sense of adventure, but also religious respect. Cultural female garb and extreme oppression strike Baker with dashes of cynicism, which provides a truthful outsider’s perspective on age-old Middle Eastern beliefs. The action sequences, admittedly scarce, do heighten heart rates, and these story-seeking journalists are rightfully presented as gonzo renegades of spoken word, but faith-based questions and social injustices sting more than actual violence. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot captures the professional allure of high-risk, high-reward reporting, along with the deranged lifestyle that swallows up so many overly-ambitious personalities.
Lost corporate souls have long been searching for something more, but what delights here isn’t Kim Baker’s new life – it’s the journey she embarks on. Whiskey Foxtrot Tango is a true “WTF!” story, where the thrill of death ironically grants life. Fey works well in a desolate warzone, poking fun and digging scoops like a true journalistic GI Jane, but more importantly, she fights against typically one-note roles for similarly trapped female characters. I mean, can you really go wrong with Tina Fey? Come for Fey, stay for Fey, and leave with a healthier, more fulfilled perspective.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is powered by a more restrained Tina Fey, who ditches overly gag-filled comedy for one of her finest performances yet.