The Taliban Shuffle, the journalist Kim Barker’s darkly comedic memoir of the years she spent as an unlikely war correspondent, carries a darkly comedic dedication: “To the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan, who are still waiting for the punchline.”
Recent editions of Barker’s book have since been renamed Whiskey Tango Foxtrot—WTF, in the military’s phonetic alphabet—to reflect the name of its new film adaptation, starring Tina Fey and promoted mostly as a quippy war comedy. The movie, directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Focus, I Love You Phillip Morris), offers some light modifications to Barker’s experience: Kim (now surnamed “Baker”) is a television, rather than newspaper, reporter; the setting for the action is abbreviated into simply “Afghanistan”; people have been blended together to create efficient composites.
The basic premise, though, is the same: Kim (Fey), unsatisfied by her desk-jockey job—and just as unsatisfied by her relationship with her “mildly depressive” boyfriend (Josh Charles)—volunteers to cover the war in Afghanistan for her news network. Initially clueless about the chaos she’s been plunged into (she angers the locals, loses her money, gets scammed by a kid, confuses “Afghans” and “Afghanis,” etc.), Kim gets her bearings with the help of her fixer, Fahim (Christopher Abbott), and of the rowdy expat community she finds in Kabul. The Westerners—war correspondents, war photographers, bodyguards—are fueled by a cocktail of sex and drugs and actual cocktails; they are in Afghanistan, but in another sense they are very much not. They call the space they’ve carved for themselves “the Kabubble.”