Paramount Pictures 1 hr 51 minutes R
Think “Bridesmaids meets the Hurt Locker.” That’s what former Chicago Tribune reporter, Kim Barker said about the movie based on her book, The Taliban Shuffle, when she was reporting in Afghanistan and Pakistan from 2002 -2009. Barker was at our screening and talked about how covering a war could become a wild party with all kinds of weird relationships and incidents. (See our interview here)
The New York Times reviewer actually said Barker was like a Tina Fey character and two weeks later, Paramount offered to option the book with Tina Fey in mind. They change her name from Kim Barker to Kim Baker in the film. They also changed her from a print reporter to a TV correspondent. Barker says because it’s hard to make watching a writer at a typewriter as exciting as someone standing in the desert with her head wrapped in front of a camera. Fey’s old boss from SNL, Lorne Michaels, took on the project as a producer along with Tina Fey. Even her SNL writer, Robert Carlock, wrote the script!
Barker was afraid this would turn into a comedy skit, and there are several funny scenes of the alcohol and drug infused parties, as well as Afghan leaders hitting on the attractive correspondent. But all in all, Barker says the film has more than truthiness and paints a pretty accurate picture of her time there, but says they’re just not as funny as it was in real life.
We asked how much interaction she had with Tina Fey and she says there was just one lunch. She joked about getting mani pedi’s with Fey and Amy Poehler as they became BFFs. But that didn’t happen. However, Fey was duly impressed with Barker and said she was really glad to meet, and have her as a resource, even calling the reporter a super bad ass.
The film itself brings out several issues. How hard it is reporting the war in that part of the world. Customs are different and women are not welcome in that world. She had to wear a Burkha, and tread very lightly, especially when a Pakistani prime minister, a hunk of an Afghan Attorney General played smarmy by Alfred Molina, plus warlords, drug lords, fundamentalists, politicians, and lonely correspondents photographers who hit on her and Martin Freeman, Iain MacKelpie, who became her compatriot and boyfriend. Barker says those times were much more hilarious in person than portrayed in the movie.
It’s not all fun and games when Fey is on the screen. Yes, she is funny, but she is also very good in the life and death situations showing her being gutsy on the job, developing meaningful friendships with her interpreter, Fahim played by Christopher Abbot, as well as eventually with the knock out female correspondent played by Margot Robbie ( Wolf of Wall Street) who steals her thunder. Barker says there wasn’t a Tanya or anyone like her on her tour. She also says correspondents in that situation help each other. But she realizes that this was a Hollywood production and it was put in to add more to her character and another level of conflict.
Billy Bob Thornton is very controlled as General Holland, the American army officer in charge who gives Kim grudging respect. He’s droll in his role and it’s fun to see him interact with the sometimes clueless reporter. Also when they develop their own mutual understanding.
This film was not shot in Afghanistan or Pakistan. They got a woman photographer to shoot video of the places Barker wrote about in Kabul, including where she stayed, known not by an address, but as the “Fun House.” However, the cast shot all of the scenes for that part of the world that ended up in the movie, in New Mexico. Barker said mixing the video looked good to her.
Is this worth your bucks? It’s not your average go-to movie, but it’s the story of a gutsy journalist who wanted an adventure and got one. She was only supposed to go for a couple of months in what turned out to be years, giving up the creature comforts of home for a pretty rugged camping or college experience chock full of danger.
Barker obviously learned a lot about herself and told us it took her almost 2 years to relax once she got back. Turned off by the small talk at cocktail parties, she still ached for the adrenalin rush she got being in a hot zone. The film mixes politics and fun and Fey does a good job being serious and funny. Just like the real correspondent, Tina Fey says Barker really is a bad ass.