Movie Review: ‘Late Night’

Director: Nisha Ganatra

Cast: Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, John Lithgow, Hugh Dancy, Reid Scott, Amy Ryan

Plot: Katherine Newbury as attained great success and celebrity as a late night talk show host who is starting to be viewed as irrelevant and out of touch in the modern era. The arrival of Molly Patel on her writing staff gives her the chance to rediscover herself.

Review: Here we have a personal drama about an unlikable person earning redemption set against a background of the New York late night talk show scene. It’s not a pitch that would hook my interest. On the other hand, Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling. The latter serving as writer no less. That’s a solid pitch right there.

Emma Thompson plays the pointedly white, British and female talk show host whose popularity in the wane. Katherine Newbury’s career could be ending and it’s difficult to find any sympathy for her. She’s such a prickly, dismissive character that she has never met her own writers. I’m going to assume that this is based on a real occurrence Kaling has encountered in her television career, otherwise it seems like a stretch. Just as Katherine is meeting with her writers for the first time to save her show, in comes Molly Patel (Kaling) from a job in a chemical plant and ready to break into comedy.

Over time Molly learns how to manage her challenging new work environment where she is the only person of colour and the only woman in the writer’s room. There’s even a running gag about the men using the woman’s bathroom because they’d never had a woman work there before (although we clearly see multiple other woman working around the office…not sure what the story is here). As Molly is becoming a raising star, Newbury is being forced to confront some harsh truths and ultimately turns to Molly to help find her way.

This film showcases some great performers and the dialogue is brilliant, but there’s an amateurish feel that holds the movie back. Transitions between night and day, or when there’s a jump forward in time, is badly communicated so you get pulled out of the moment every time someone mentions how much time has passed. Much of the movie feels as though it’s shot with a television approach, must scenes ending quickly and without fuss to keep the story beats well spaced out between commercial breaks.

Being about a comedian who has to reinvent herself for a modern viewer we do touch on a number of societal and cultural issues including the #metoo movement and the media’s representation of women. We would have liked to have seen this topics explored in greater detail but quite often they only get glanced over. The movie only fully hits it’s stride when Katherine embraces self-depreciating humour by using her white privilege and celebrity social media accounts to help other people in some amusing ways.

Overall this was a fun and well written movie. But it might have worked better on a smaller screen.

Rating: SIX out of TEN