I always admire actors who are willing to try something new. The ones who are determined to showcase a different layer of their abilities and connect with audiences in a genre that they aren’t known for. Will Ferrell in Stranger than Fiction. Jim Carrey in The Truman Show. Steve Carell in Dan in Real Life. Comedic actors in particular seem to be keen to prove that they aren’t just good for a laugh and secretly have a plethora of emotions that are just waiting to be unleashed.
Tina Fey has also thrown her name into that hat before, and while Whiskey Tango Foxtrot doesn’t always provide the smoothest platform for her performance, it is this writer’s opinion that there’s more to Fey than just comedy. It’s just a shame that it doesn’t take place in a more focused movie.
What you’ll notice right off the bat is that Whiskey Tango Foxtrot isn’t above using Fey’s humorous nature to sell itself and get you invested in what’s happening. The marketing boys even exploited it in the previews and advertised the film as MASH in the Middle East. This was a mistake because they presented Whiskey as something it’s not in an attempt to reel in a more sizable box office haul. Of course, people who went to see it were probably disappointed it didn’t feature more hilarity and wondered why they didn’t just go see Zootopia instead.
To be fair, there are scenes where more light-hearted entertainment is in order, and of course Fey delivers. However, being a war correspondent doesn’t leave much room for a facetious outlook, no matter how much the film tries to convince you that this is a comedy, or at least a very amusing drama. Posted in Afghanistan, far away from the War in Iraq and the interest of the world, Kim Barker (Fey) has to cope with her increasingly thankless job as well as her crumbling personal life. I’d imagine it’s a conflict that many journalists overseas have had to face, particularly because this one is based on a true story. It makes for a refreshing look at a topic that I thought was played out and it carries both a dramatic weight and sheer entertainment value, though Whiskey sometimes struggles to differentiate between the two.
And I think that’s where the film misfires: it’s not funny enough to be a comedy and the story isn’t strong enough to be a full-fledged drama. This isn’t to say that Fey fails due to a lack of dramatic chops. In the presence of more sure-handed direction and precise writing, Whiskey could’ve been something truly captivating and innovative. Instead we are left with a product that aims high but can’t decide which target it wants to hit, and I think that makes it hard for the audience to know how to react. Should I be laughing here or am I an asshole for thinking this is funny? Is this a serious moment or is the film trying to trick me into laughing?
Nevertheless, there are several portions of Whiskey that I found to be poignant and thought-provoking. Fey has an inherent likability that makes it easy for people to resonate with her, and if you care about war, politics or journalism, you will certainly sympathize with her plight. Martin Freeman co-stars as Fey’s love interest in a role that was as much of a departure for him as Fey’s was for her, but it too felt very natural and authentic. There is enough to like about Whiskey to make me glad that I saw it, yet I wouldn’t readily recommend it to anyone.
Tina Fey is more than just a comedian and she shouldn’t settle for just making people laugh. That I know for sure. What I don’t know is how good she can be because Whiskey Tango Foxtrot doesn’t let you forget that her roots are in 30 Rock and Saturday Night Live. That hampers what was an otherwise enjoyable experience.
Jesse’s Rating: B-