Four-and-a-half out of five stars
There’s no denying Tina Fey is one of the premiere voices in comedy today. From her groundbreaking work as head writer on "Saturday Night Live," to the quirky and ridiculously smart Emmy-winning sitcom "30 Rock," to her razor-sharp hosting stints with Amy Poehler at the Golden Globes, Fey has proven herself time and time again to be a brilliant, insightful comic mind.
On TV, that is. On the big screen, not so much.
Sure, there was "Mean Girls," an instant classic -- but that was over a decade ago. Since then, we’ve been treated to a string of films that, frankly, felt beneath Fey: "Baby Mama," "Date Night," "Sisters," "Admission." They all had their moments, but mostly failed to live up to the expectations set by Fey herself.
Until now. "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" is both the Tina Fey movie we want, and the one we deserve.
Fey stars as Kim Baker, a TV news writer who has an OK life, an OK job, and an OK boyfriend. Everything with her is OK, but she’s hardly setting the world on fire -- so when she gets the chance to cover the war in Afghanistan in 2003, she decides that might be just the thing she needs to shake her out of her rut.
In Kabul, she finds life is certainly a lot more exciting: her desk job days are now filled with booze, bullets and boys. She learns that while she may have been a 6 on the hotness scale in New York, in Kabul she’s a 9. Fellow reporter Tanya Vanderpoel (Margot Robbie, a Kabul 15) shows her the ropes, and before long, Kim’s a seasoned vet, navigating the pitfalls and politics of wartime journalism.
Along the way she meets a guy, Reuters photographer Iain MacKelpie (Martin Freeman), and Kim has to decide just how long she can hide out in the Kabubble she’s built to protect her from facing real life.
Part "Charlie Wilson’s War," part "Catch-22" and part "M*A*S*H," "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" is a romantic comedy with zero sentimentality; a serious look at people who run away from their problems only to find more problems; and a war farce that’s funny, because it rings so true.
Part of the reason is because it’s based on a true story. There really is a Kim Barker, and her book, The Taliban Shuffle, is the basis for the film. Fey’s longtime writing and producing partner, Robert Carlock, wrote the screenplay, and though the two have teamed up on numerous TV projects ("Unbreakable Kimmy Schidt," "30 Rock," "SNL," the Golden Globes), this their first movie project together. Hopefully, the first of many.
As for Fey, "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" is her most serious leading role to date. Not that she isn’t funny – she and the movie deliver a bunch of laugh-out-loud moments. But here, her usual quirky softness is replaced with a tough edge. You get a real sense for the first time that Tina Fey might someday be Oscar nominee Tina Fey, if that’s something she’s interested in.
Add a fantastic supporting cast in Robbie and Freeman, plus Billy Bob Thorton as a military general with a surprising amount of depth, and with "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" you easily have the best comedy of the year so far.