Tina Fey rarely works in films that aren’t written by her. Attempted vehicles like Baby Mama or Admission always put her in the type of “socially awkward working girl” role that Fey brilliantly satirized for seven seasons on 30Rock. Aside from the role she wrote for herself in Mean Girls, Fey’s filmography rarely ends up working for her capable comedic chops. Luckily, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot has the benefit of Fey’s 30Rock co-creator Robert Carlock behind the screenplay to play to her strengths. In Foxtrot, Fey’s character Kim Baker (an actual journalist who’s memoir The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan was the basis for the film) has a more authentic neurotic worry to her that’s endearing, especially when thrown into the unexpected environment of a party den filled with war journalists that contrasts with the heavy artillery she deals with on the job.
All of this is helped by the enjoyable supporting cast, particularly Margot Robbie as Fey’s buddy within the war journalism community and Billy Bob Thornton as a general who’s constantly butting heads with Fey. The conflicts that build with this supporting cast take interesting turns that help to test Tina’s abilities both as a reporter and a person trying to keep whatever life she has together. This is even the case with Christopher Abbot and Alfred Molina’s characters, who have a decent rapport with Fey, though are never quite convincing as Afghani characters given their more Italian looks that slightly took me out of their supposed authenticity.
Directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa decide to shoot Whiskey Tango Foxtrot in a style similar to more dramatic War in Afghanistan films of the past decade or so. It’s a dicey choice, which occasionally frames the comedy in rather ill advised shaky camera moves. Yet, it also builds a solid authenticity to the desert landscapes early on. It also manages to fit the fear of the situation, but more so than the few attempts at tension do. Despite the scenarios in the script screaming for worry over what could happen, yet there’s never a full on dedication to that tension for anything to feel genuinely at stake. It does kind of lessen the tension we’re supposed to feel during the climax, but the film isn’t really about. It’s more directly about the responsibility of journalism and how often personal arrogance can get in the way of that. Sure, it also features Tina Fey peeing on a branch due to drinking too much water, but the message somehow manages to shine through.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Bad Knees
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