Late Night is a funny, clever crowd-pleaser starring Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling that zings with laugh-out-loud one-liners – it’s directed by Nisha Ganatra of Transparent.
Good Eveningby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Emma Thompson is Katherine Newbury, a British late-night talk-show host in the US. She’s phenomenal as the outrageously bitchy, smart TV queen, with a dress sense rather like Ellen Degeneres. But ratings are falling, her tenure is threatened and in the #MeToo environment, she needs to show some positive discrimination and recruit a woman to her all-male writers’ room joke factory grown lazy. Mindy Kaling (The Mindy Project, A Wrinkle in Time</em) is Molly Patel, of Indian heritage, a wannabe scriptwriter who’s a big fan of the show but has no writing or TV experience, but who ticks all the boxes to fulfil diversity-policy hiring – so she gets the job.
Cue a kind of odd couple, with great comedy chemistry between the two women that holds the film together. Molly irrepressibly steamrollers though the accepted way of doing things, ignoring ‘the iron fist of white male privilege’ and shakes up the show – and Katherine.
Late Night is feel-good entertainment. It’s funny, snappy, fast moving and has some really good comedy performances. Dennis O’Hare as Brad, Katherine’s long-suffering producer, is particularly appealing. It’s also great to see John Lithgow, though in a minor role as Katherine’s husband.
To some extent, Late Night is the media indulgently navel-gazing, in a way that screenwriting classes warn against, as it reveals some of the crazier workings behind the scenes of popular TV shows. The writer’s room sequences are particularly well observed – and no wonder.
It also has an underlying message if you want one – that comedy is truth. Molly has her own kind of integrity. She speaks truth to Katherine’s power, the jokes she writes are based on her beliefs, and ultimately Katherine injects her own truth into her show and it works. Maybe that’s a truism and it all pans out a bit predictably. Late Night is not a sitcom, it’s a self-contained film, but to misquote Seinfeld… There’s no hugging, Katherine’s still too spiky for that, and Molly’s her own woman, but maybe there’s some learning. The men… well, they fell by the wayside a long time ago.
Late Night premiered in the UK at Sundance London 2019.