Comedies about naive Americans in the Middle East have been frequently attempted, but infrequently successful—it is all too easy to resort to stereotypes, to offensively make light of victims of real tragedy. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot could be the first to succeed where other studio films have flopped.
The film, which stars Tina Fey as a reporter who heads to Afghanistan and Pakistan as an unsatisfied woman who wanted out of her job and her “mildly-depressive boyfriend,”—reasoning which is labeled, by another woman in the film, as “the most American white lady story I’ve ever heard.”
The whole project is legitimized by the fact that it’s based on The Taliban Shuffle (2011), reporter Kim Barker’s darkly funny account of the five years she spent in the same areas learning on-the-job to be a foreign correspondent. The New York Times review of the book indicates that this film was pretty much an inevitability:
It’s not just that Ms. Barker is adept at dramatizing her own adventures as a reporter—though she develops the chops of a veteran foreign correspondent, she depicts herself as sort of a Tina Fey character, who unexpectedly finds herself addicted to the adrenaline rush of war. It’s also that Ms. Barker has discovered a voice in these pages that enables her to capture both the serious and the seriously absurd conditions in Af-Pak (Afghanistan and Pakistan), and the surreal deal of being a female reporter there, with dating problems ranging from the screwball (a boyfriend competing to cover the same story) to the ridiculous (being romantically pursued by the former prime minister of Pakistan).
I am still wary, since Hollywood is capable of making smart, nuanced stories into broadly offensive blockbusters, but hopeful—if any Af-Pak war comedy has a chance at success, it’s certainly this one.
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