Past the Popcorn: Tina Fey Evokes Robin Williams in Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

by Jeff Walls

Actress and writer Tina Fey has already achieved great success on the small screen thanks to her wonderful work on Saturday Night Live as well as being the writer, creator, and star of the hit comedy 30 Rock.  Although she’s had a few successes on the big screen, her work in cinema has not quite reached the level of her work in television.  That could change with Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, a war comedy that that is the perfect vehicle for the actress, while also giving her the opportunity to show off her talent for drama.

Fey plays Kim Baker, a character based on the real-life journalist Kim Barker, whose book The Taliban Shuffle served as the basis for the movie.  Baker is tired of sitting at a desk and writing news stories on insignificant subjects.  When the opportunity presents itself for her to be an on-air war correspondent in Afghanistan, she takes it, not fully knowing just exactly what she is getting herself into.  For someone who has spent her entire career behind a desk, she doesn’t waste much time in throwing herself directly into the fray.  When a firefight breaks out on her first ride along with the Marines, she ignores the orders to stay in the vehicle and follows the action with her camera in hand.

whiskey-tango-foxtrot-insetBaker quickly finds that the war correspondent life can be quite exhilarating.  Even though her initial assignment was only for three months, she soon finds herself having been living in Afghanistan for three years.   She has become addicted to the adrenaline rush that comes with the job and is always looking for the next big (read: dangerous) story.  This is quite concerning for her local guide, who has a nice speech trying to convince her that she needs to take a break from this and return to her normal life, but for Baker, she believes this life has become her normal life.

The easy comparison for Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is 1987’s Good Morning, Vietnam, which dropped another comic actor—Robin Williams—into the middle of another controversial war.  Both movies successfully use comedy to bring to light topical issues and set up the drama.  Whereas Whiskey Tango Foxtrot won’t likely reach the same classic level as Good Morning, Vietnam (the film earned Williams his first Oscar nomination), it is the best movie of the Fey’s career to date, with the possible exception of Mean Girls, which she wrote and performed in.

What might keep Whiskey from being the classic that its predecessor became has nothing to do with Fey’s performance—let’s face it, though, no one will ever come close to comparing with what Williams did in that movie—but because the movie plays it a little too safe.  Whereas Baker’s story is fleshed out well, the story of the war and military action going on around her is not tackled as strongly.  That keeps this very good movie from becoming a great movie.

Fey is excellent in a role that seems to have been written for her, even though it based on another person’s life story.  Perhaps it should be no surprise, though.  After all, a review of the book in the New York Times said that the author “depicts herself as a sort of Tina Fey character.”  Almost all of the jokes hit, thanks in large part to the actress’ delivery of them.  The cast surrounding Fey provides some good support, most notably Christopher Abbott as her guide, Fahim.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a thoroughly entertaining movie that is well worth seeing, especially for fans of Tina Fey’s work.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot opens today at the AMC Southcenter 16, the AMC Century Federal Way, and AMC Kent Station 14. Won’t it be nice when Des Moines has its own theater again? Until then, eat local before you go!

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