Late Night begs one important question: why isn’t Emma Thompson the lead in more movies? Better yet, why isn’t she the lead in every movie?
Thompson stars as Katherine, a longtime late night talk show host, who runs her show with an iron fist, despite not knowing any of her staff’s name. After firing one of her writers, she is accused by him for not liking woman or tolerating any on her staff. She demands her assistant (Denis O’Hare) hire a woman, no matter of qualifications.
Molly (Mindy Kaling) walks into the interview with no experience in television and barely any in comedy. She works at a chemical plant, and through a series of convoluted explanations, she winds up getting the interview and immediately hired.
The writers’ room is made up of all men – played by Reid Scott, Hugh Dancy, Max Casella, John Early, and Paul Walter Hauser – and they aren’t welcoming to Molly. Her inexperience shows, but she isn’t afraid to point out what could be improved on the show, which rubs everyone the wrong way.
“…the show isn’t getting canceled, they are just replacing her.”
Katherine is informed by the head of the studio (Amy Ryan) the current season of the show will be her last. The abrupt and unexpected delivery of the message stuns Katherine, especially when clarified the show isn’t getting canceled, they are just replacing her. Katherine has been doing the show for almost three decades, and a certain part of her believes she’s irreplaceable. She’s ignored the fact the ratings have been declining for ten years, and even her husband (John Lithgow) agrees things haven’t been the same and maybe it’s time to move on.
Late Night focuses on the ever-changing media landscape and the adapt-or-die mentality that comes with it. Katherine doesn’t welcome change but knows she has to prove she is still worth keeping on her show. She can no longer book senators as guests, but pivots to interviewing YouTube celebrities, who she feels are beneath her.
Thompson is so great as Katherine, giving a commanding comedic performance with shades of Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada. Katherine doesn’t want long-winded explanations about why her show isn’t working but immediate answers and solutions. She isn’t hesitant to throw insults or coldly terse responses at her staff, who work long hours to make her show function.
“Thompson is so great…giving a commanding comedic performance with shades of Miranda Priestly…”
The script by Kaling offers a lot of funny one-liners, even if the movie feels like an extended episode of Kaling’s sitcom, and director Nisha Ganatra makes an energetic debut, moving the film along at a swift pace. There is plenty of commentary, without ever preaching, about gender parity in the entertainment business, which assumes only one type of person can work in a writers’ room. Even when Late Night feels slight, it has more on its mind than your average comedy.
Kaling throws a twist in late for dramatic effect, which seems superfluous and distracting, especially since there are enough important topics being explored. Even so, the rapport between Thompson and Kaling, along with the entire supporting cast, make Late Night a lively and entertaining workplace comedy with its finger on the pulse of today’s entertainment industry.
Late Night (2019) Directed by Nisha Ganatra. Written by Mindy Kaling. Starring Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, Denis O’Hare, John Lithgow, Reid Scott, Max Casella, Paul Walter Hauser, Hugh Dancy, John Early. Late Night screened at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.
7 out of 10