When we last saw Tina Fey, she was blue, drunk, and climbing into a sinkhole to rescue her daughter during a house party for the ages in Sisters. One of the funnier movies of 2015, it was right in Fey’s wheelhouse– a broad (though smart) comedy.
Fast forward three months, and now we get Fey as a real-life disillusioned news writer who decides (in 2003) that spending a couple months as a war correspondent in Afghanistan would be a good idea. And while Whiskey Tango Foxtrot could hardly be called an outright comedy, it somehow still manages to seem like it’s still right up Fey’s alley. Portraying real-life reporter Kim Barker, Fey (as Kim Baker here, inexplicably) drives WTF forward with her own brand of subtle wit, deftly combining it with a dash of gravitas. And though the movie itself can’t be considered an outright win, Fey proves that she doesn’t always have to be blue or drunk (or Sarah Palin) to be successful.
Once she’s “in country”, Baker finds she’s actually right in her element. After a nominal learning curve, she able to fit in with her veteran colleagues (including Margot Robbie and Martin Freeman), hold her own while filming a firefight (earning the respect of Billy Bob Thornton’s gruff general), and stand toe-to-toe with the local higher-ups (like Alfred Molina’s zany Afghan official).
There are times when it seems like WTF is trying to be something along the lines of Full Metal Jacket or, perhaps more accurately, Welcome to Sarajevo— mixing comedy with the drama and human toll of war. The film never really has the guts to go all the way, though; instead it skirts around issues that could have (and should have) made WTF one of the more brilliant movies of the year. While we get to witness harrowing moments such as the kidnapping of a journalist and the aftermath of an IED explosion, they’re glossed over so quickly that they end up feeling like a footnote.
Co-directors and writers Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Focus) can’t ever seem to find a rhythm, and while no one can blame them for just wanting to stand back and let Fey “do her thing”, the movie as a whole suffers a bit.
Surely the studio heads were none-too-eager to make something poignant and true to life, but it would have resulted in a much more memorable film. As it is, we get a fun, Fey-centric look at wartime hi-jinks. And the studio will get much more box office moolah as a result. Yay.