Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa | Written by Robert Carlock, from the book The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Kim Barker | 112 min | ▲▲△△△
Here’s another tale of Afghanistan told through a Western lens, following closely behind Afghan Luke, Hyena Road, and Rock The Kasbah.
Tina Fey—serving as producer here as well as star—has two talented helmers (of Crazy, Stupid, Love and Focus) on board and, by many accounts, a terrific source memoir from New York journalist Kim Barker. She’s thrown way out of her comfort zone when she gets assigned to Kabul in 2003, spending four years there, living in a Delta House of ex-pat journalists partying as hard as they work.
She gets her stories through local connections, like a fixer (Christopher Abbott) and an official (Alfred Molina), occasionally embedded with the marines (led by Billy Bob Thornton, playing right to type) while getting friendly with another foreign correspondent (Margot Robbie) and a roving Scottish photographer (Martin Freeman).
This is a good role for Fey, allowing her to shine in the comedy and, like her character, show off chops we haven’t seen before when things inevitably get dramatic. The shame then how the vehicle she’s in refuses to stretch at all.
Clunky gags and fish-out-of-water humour is gradually replaced by more earnest drama (and romance, natch’), but little of it feels authentic beyond the locations, which is even more surprising when you learn much of the film was shot in New Mexico. While its entertainment value lacks depth, credit goes to Fey, Robbie, and Freeman for keeping things lively.
Hardest to understand is the choice of American Abbott and British/Italian/Spaniard Molina to play Afghans. People crapped all over Cameron Crowe and Emma Stone for the whitewashed casting in the otherwise underrated Aloha, but I haven’t heard much of an outcry on this. Everyone involved should know better.