Finding Fey: An Op-Ed On The Reason for Tina Fey's Mediocrity on the Big Screen

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Tina Fey has only written one film. Maybe it's time to write another?

Months ago, when I heard about the March release of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, a new film starring Tina Fey, I was not excited. But the trailer gave me some hope, and when I learned the script was penned by none other than Fey’s writing partner, Robert Carlock, a co-creator of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and a 30 Rock showrunner, I became incredibly excited for the film’s release. I thought that maybe Whiskey Tango Foxtrot would be Fey’s first truly good movie since Mean Girls.

But I was wrong.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot was just okay, and is doing very poorly at the box office. WTF is not a clear step up from Sisters (written by Paula Pell, a former 30 Rock and SNL writer), This is Where I Leave You, Admission, Date Night, The Invention of Lying, Baby Mama, et cetera. Although I have seen many of these films, they were unmemorable to the point that I couldn’t tell you the name of a single character. When I think of Fey’s movie career, I think of Mean Girls and disappointment, which is an interesting statement because Mean Girls is the only film Fey has written. All of my favorite Fey performances are those which she wrote and created, most of which are on TV.

What is the reason for Fey's descent into mediocrity on the big screen?

You can’t blame a lack of roles for 40-something women; Kristin Wiig (only three years younger than Fey) starred in The Martian last year, although her role wasn’t nearly as big as Matt Damon’s. The role of Joy Mangano, the titular character from the film Joy, got Jennifer Lawrence an Oscar nomination. (I’m bringing this up not because Jennifer Lawrence and Tina Fey could play the same roles, but because Joy is supposed to be 33 at the beginning and nearly 40 by the end of the film, and David O. Russell’s decision to cast Lawrence as a divorced mother was insane and unbelievable).

Of course, there are misconceptions about prototypical TV and movie stars that exist due to general trends from the earliest days of television. In TV’s early days, TV stars were typically older, more androgynous, less attractive, and encoded as more “Jewish” than their film counterparts. Despite Fey’s consistent attempts to humorously encode herself as such, she in fact isn’t ugly, masculine, old looking, or Jewish. In a media landscape where Paul Giamatti has won a Golden Globe (Barney’s Version) and Steve Buscemi can get constant work, it would be ridiculous to presume that Fey is not attractive enough for mainstream appeal.

Instead, the issue is probably rooted with Fey, herself. Let’s take, for example, Sisters, a movie which she produced. As was previously mentioned, the film was written by Paula Pell – a veteran of SNL and 30 Rock. Based on Googling “Paula Pell Tina Fey” it's obvious that Fey and Pell are friends. One would imagine that Fey’s decision to appear in Sisters was at least partially driven by her relationship with the writer. I haven’t read the script of Sisters, nor will I after being underwhelmed by the movie, but I can’t imagine that Fey read it and thought that it was going to be a massive success.

Not all of Fey’s films have been with writers or directors with whom she is friends; this has only been the case for Sisters and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. But if this trend continues, Fey will never reach the peak in film that she has on TV.

There is a potential solution to this problem, if Fey is indeed interested in being a movie star. Of course, I’m talking about Fey writing a film for herself. This is what Amy Schumer did with Trainwreck and I think we would all agree that Fey has the potential to blow Trainwreck out of the water. Although Fey has written herself into leading roles on TV, she has not yet done so on the silver screen, and even when she stars on TV she often does so within an ensemble cast.

Of course, whether or not Fey is interested in being a movie star is a question whose answer I can only speculate about at best. Fey has a TV show, is working on adaptating Mean Girls into a musical, and has two children. She probably doesn't have the time to write a movie just because we want her to. She's done enough as it is. Even if Fey never stars in a critically acclaimed film, I will remain satisfied with her career as long as I have Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and 30 Rock reruns.