ByPaul Donovan, writer at
A jerk with an opinion. An explorer of transgressive cinema. See more things about movies at
Paul Donovan

This movie is predictable at first, but slowly builds itself into something more than you expect.

1. The title of the movie is more clever than I gave it originally gave it credit for. If you really don't know what it means, go look it up. I'll wait.

2. There are some movies that you come to understand not by figuring out what it is, but by what it isn't. This is one of those movies. It stars Tina Fey, but it's not a comedy. It's set in Afghanistan, but it's not a war movie (there are two combat scenes in the whole film, and they each last about 30 seconds). The main characters are war journalists, but it's not really about war reporting.

3. Based on a true story, it documents three years in the life of journalist Kim Baker (in real life, her last name is Barker, not Baker). She's a TV news journalist writing dumb, low-profile stories in 2003. The war in Afghanistan has moved its focus to Iraq, and all the war correspondents are moving there, too. So the news organization needs to send some replacement reporters to Afghanistan. Baker volunteers for the job.

Baker is immediately out of her depth. Not only does she not know the local language, she also doesn't know the difference between "Afghan" and "Afghani" (for that matter, she also doesn't know the difference between "Hoo-yah!" and "Ooo-rah!"). Her first real conversation with other reporters amounts to a request for her to stake a claim for who she wants to have sex with.

4. There is a little discussion of the sexism that Baker encounters, being one of the only female war reporters in a Muslim country. However, there is just as much discussion of the advantages she gets by being a woman and having access to parts of the culture that men are barred from.

5. About a third of the way through the movie, a major theme emerges. Since there's no real fighting in Afghanistan, Baker wants to do stories on women's issues. Her boss in America tells her no; the American public isn't really interested in seeing Afghanistan's conflicts on the news, so they are certainly not interested in seeing Afghanistan's women on the news. She is in Afghanistan to find stories that get viewers that create profit in America.

6. About halfway through the movie, an unexpected romance begins to develop. This is not fluff or filler. It represents another theme of the movie, about being in a bubble and losing track of what's real.

7. As Baker learns to be a war correspondent, personal and professional boundaries naturally blur, and motives become murky. In the second half of the movie, a third theme comes into focus - intentionally or not, everybody eventually betrays somebody.

8. There is a fourth theme in the movie, but it is spelled out for you at the end, so you can't miss it. Then you can refer back to the movie's title.

9. This is a surprisingly nuanced film. It's not funny, or exciting, or scandalous. And I have no idea how closely the movie follows the facts of Kim Barker's story. But it is an excellent example about how a life is constructed (and deconstructed) from smaller pieces of experience. It hit me in the feels more than I expected.


What did you think? A successful change of pace for Tina Fey, or a boring drama? Let us know!


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