Tina Fey may not be what you’d call a high profile star, but she certainly has her fans — myself included. With her whip smart brand of sarcasm, Fey has been a comedic powerhouse ever since she joined Saturday Night Live all the way back in 1998. While her big screen endeavors may not reach the heights of the small screen, she sure seems bound and determined to stay in the Hollywood game. I’m sure she can thank the success of Mean Girls — which she scripted — because she’s only had two roles of note outside of that: Baby Mama and Date Night.
I was a tiny bit worried seeing her return to another R-rated film, but thankfully, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is no Sisters. Fey stars as journalist Kim Baker — basing her character off the film’s non-fictional source Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan, written by Kim Barker (no, that’s not a typo).
Kim decides to step up at work and leaves the safety of writing news copy to become a war correspondent during Operation Enduring Freedom. She’s almost forced into as she’s part of the small group of employees who are unmarried and childless. Now Kim is a stranger in an even stranger land and a little out of her league as she tries to keep her station interested enough about an unnecessary war on its last leg. Along the way she develops relationships with fellow reporters Tanya Vanderpoel (Margot Robbie), Iain MacKelpie (Martin Freeman), and the most awkward of all with Attorney General Ali Massoud Sadiq (Alfred Molina) who wants to be more than friends.
If there’s anyone as familiar with Fey’s strengths better than herself, it’s screenwriter Robert Carlock. After working together on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, multiple Golden Globes award shows, Saturday Night Live, and 30 Rock, they know what works best for her strengths. Thankfully, Fey also has two directors — Glenn Ficarra and John Requa — behind the camera who know their way around mixing comedy and drama. It may lean more toward the comedy, but WTF does try to make real characters out of these people — even if they’re all fictionalized versions of their real-life counterparts. Fey may be making her first film with them, but they’ve surrounded her with actors they’ve worked with before: Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa and Margot Robbie in Focus.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot does run just a tad too long, and there may never be any real surprises, but it’s fun to see someone so far out of their element on screen. Uncomfortable situations always make for damn fine comedy, and there’s nothing comfortable about being propositioned by a beardy Molina. The rest of the cast are all keeping up the pace even if Ficarra and Requa start to lag behind. At one point, Baker is told by her new boss that people aren’t tuning in anymore, and unfortunately, after a while, audiences may find themselves tuning out here as well.
Thankfully, Fey & Co. keep the jokes flying and the characters empathetic enough to hold our interests through to the end credits. But exactly who that target audience is remains questionable. As it stands, anyone interested in checking it out — or if you happen to be a big Fey fan — at least she doesn’t make a joke of herself here, as she did in Sisters. Keep expectations in check — this is not the wacky comedy the marketing team at Paramount is trying to make you think it is — and you should walk out with a smile on your face.