by Kyle Arango
Late night television has been a staple of programming for a long time now. From the classics like Johnny Carson and David Letterman, to the newer guys like Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert, these people bring laughs into our household every weeknight and have been viewed by millions across the world. Now, we are finally getting a movie based around a late-night show, which has always been rich with material. Late Night explores what goes into a comedy show and just how many pieces it takes to make it work.
Late Night follows Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson), who is the host of a primetime comedy show. Over the past decade, her show has been in decline and become stale because she is unwilling to move with the times and try something different. Meanwhile, her writing staff is a bunch of white guys and they bring in Molly (Mindy Kaling) as a diversity hire. When Katherine learns the network wants to replace her as the host of her own show, Molly helps Katherine confront herself and try to save her dwindling career. This film is part comedy, part mid-life crisis, part social message all rolled into one and the end result is beautiful. A reluctance to adjust to the ever-moving future is something many people struggle with and to put that concept into something as big as a late-night comedy show was a very clever idea. Late Night really tackles that hard, and shows not only how much it can weigh on the individual, but to those around them and how it only ends up hurting everyone. We face it every day. The people who say “kids and their technology” or “that’s not how I was raised” are all around us and they make themselves known. What occurs is that when you focus on the past, you get left behind and that is what Late Night explores.
What is the most perplexing part of Late Night is its screenplay. Star of the film Mindy Kaling wrote this film and she is no stranger to writing comedy. Ever heard of a show called The Office? She is a very talented writer and her story here is very up and down. In one aspect she tells this wonderful story of a selfish woman unwilling to accept others and in another, this is a social message about diversity in the workplace. That is where the film falters. Mindy is writing a terrific story but also feels the need to put in this message and while it is a noble one, it gets in the way of the main point of the film. It is almost like two films in one. It’s her relationship with Katherine, and her relationship with the writers. As a result, you can tell she is focused on the main plot of the film, but then feels the need to write in scenes with the writers about how bad they treat a woman at their job. It disrupts the flow of the film and some scenes feel like they are missing context. The messages are so on the nose as well. She literally says what message she is trying to convey when it can just be shown. It is unfortunate because, besides this, the film is terrific.
While Mindy Kaling stumbles a bit in her writing, she is fantastic in her performance. Mindy brings an earnestness to the film as Molly. She is the heart that makes the film relatable and that is all conveyed in her performance. You can tell Mindy put a lot of herself into this character and it pays off. You want to see her work her way up the ladder and win over those who oppose her because she is a genuinely good person. The star of the film, however, is Emma Thompson. She is one of the finest actresses working today and this might be one of her best roles. She is allowed to really stretch and bring gravitas to this character. The character of Katherine is not particularly likeable, but Thompson is able to balance that dislikability with charisma where you never fully hate her and can in some ways understand why she is the way that she is. Expect to see Thompson in the awards conversation later this year.
So while Late Night is not as great as I hoped it could be, I still had a damn good time. I was connected to the characters and drawn into this world they set up. The chemistry between Thompson and Kaling is dynamic and you really root for these characters. While the writing wavers, when it hits its highs, it really soars and makes this film worthy of your time.
The Verdict: 4/5 Stars