Parts of this film are really smart, witty and enjoyable. Then there are others which are….well…a little flat. Meaning they feel like time fillers rather than scenes which advance the story. While it is rather uneven Late Night is still a rather enjoyable watch which is better than your average film.
Especially enjoyable to those who are fans (and honestly, who isn’t?) of Emma Thompson. This part is tailor made for her and I believe that Mindy Kaling wrote this part with the wonderful Brit in mind. She is the perfect vehicle to convey the complexities of Katherine Newbury. The intelligence, wit, arrogance, and caustic tongue that makes up this late night television show. She is at her best here with all the skills she brings – ability to deliver wordy lines like no other alongside comedic timing – to the movie table.
Like present day late night chat shows, this is not a woman’s world and Katherine (Emma Thompson – Nanny McPhee, Saving Mr. Banks), being the only one, bears the resulting scars. She, despite her success and awards, feels like she has to prove how capable and smart she is on a nightly basis. Which is fine for a small portion of television watchers, but most want silliness of the likes of Jimmy Fallon. Katherine refuses to cave in to the lowest common denominator.
As such, her ratings have dipped…quite a bit. This has resulted in the latest director of the station, Caroline Morton (Amy Ryan – Birdman, Gone Baby Gone), to rather gleefully tell her than this season will be her last. Not willing to go quietly into the night or be replaced by lowbrow comedian Daniel Tennant (Ike Barinholtz – Suicide Squad, Neighbors), Katherine attempts to right the ship. Besides telling her producer, Brad (Denis O’Hare – The Proposal, Dallas Buyers Club), to book guest she never would have previously like a YouTube celebrity, she also tries to combat the idea that she is a woman who hates women by hiring a woman. And that woman is still wet behind the ears comedy writer, Molly Patel (Mindy Kaling – from television’s The Office).
Molly is so new to this world that everything is overwhelming. Plus she has to try to find her space on an all-male writing team which includes an attractive guy just trying to sleep with her (Hugh Dancy – Ella Enchanted, The Jane Austen Book Club) and the head monologue writer (Reid Scott – from television’s Veep), who just seems to resent her presence. Not exactly a group familiar with #TimesUp.
Oddly enough, Molly is going to be Katherine’s saving grace. A true fan of Katherine, she wants to see her succeed and will somehow have to get through to her about how to connect with her audience. That path is not going to be a straight and or smooth one.
The film’s best moments come when Thompson and Kaling share the screen. Each plays well off the other. Characters show different layers while the two trade barbs back and forth. The two are just so likeable and watchable that it is a pleasure. At the same time, these two women who have had to deal with working in male dominated worlds for most of their careers have no trouble conveying the lives of characters dealing with the misogyny in the entertainment world.
As a writer Mindy Kaling has managed to corner the niche on bringing points home on awkward or difficult subjects without offending. She manages to do it while being cute. I am in no mean demeaning what she does in that her way does not turn off those who most need to hear her words. It is a skill few have mastered. The patriarchy, white people and other privileged types are called to task in a way in which few noses will be out of joint.
Being a writer in worlds very similar to this one (for Conan O’Brien, The Office, Saturday Night Live), also serves Kaling well. There is nary a false note struck here. It all seems rather realistic. And that makes it funnier.