Nisha Ganarra (director)
07 June 2019 (released)
07 June 2019
There is a film to be made about the serious issues that are raised in Late Night, its just that Late Night isn’t it.
The plot is simple enough. Katherine Newberry’s (Emma Thompson) long running late night chat show is on the slide and has been for a number of years: It’s looking and sounding tired and worn. Despite the host being a ground-breaker as the only female talk-show host it cuts no ice with ratings and advert watching executives. In an attempt to halt the slide and introduce an edge to the show, the order goes out to get a new writer, and it has to be a woman to break up her all white middle class highly educated writing team. A writing team that she has never met and when she finally does numbers them rather than use their names.
In comes Molly (Mindy Kaling), a tokenistic appointment, who works in a chemical plant. And from there the level of humour is set up as Molly walks into the writing room on her first day with cupcakes for the team and is taken as the help. It’s a old cliché and they roll in thick and fast as Molly tries to work with the team dealing with their snobbery and prejudice.
How this all resolves itself will be obvious within the first 15 minutes of the film. Based on a screenplay by Mindy Kaling and despite a certain panache from director Nisha Ganatra, it all feels and looks tired with stock characters and situations.
As a satire its far too close to what actually happens in American TV to be truly incisive. It also doesn’t have the courage of its convictions trying to cover all the bases and balance issues. It’s just too nice as in one sequence railing about the privileged background of one of the writers Newberry lobs in a defence that blunts the point and the attack.
What makes the film passable is the great cast who have thrown themselves into it with some gusto. Thompson is excellent as the host with a sharp mind and lacerating tongue, cowering her writing team. But there’s another side and that’s brought out by a sensitive turn from John Lithgow as Walter Lovell Katherine’s loyal and loving husband. Kaling holds her own as Molly countering her boss’s excesses and the rubbish that she and her writing colleagues throw at her.
It’s all very zippy but ultimately for all the snap, crackle and pop it just isn’t that funny.