Film review: ‘LATE NIGHT’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

The world of late-night TV talk shows has provided fruitful material for ‘behind the scenes’ satires and exposés with comedy classics like The Larry Sanders Show and tele-movies such as The Late Shift. Hosting a talk show appears to be an odd mix of empathy and narcissism in which the host is often a bigger star than the person they’re interviewing and at times feels the need to confirm this. Late Night, written by Mindy Kaling and starring Emma Thomson and Kaling, explores this world through the filter of a workplace personal empowerment comedy. While the film makes some fairly insightful observations about gender politics, the need for workplace diversity, entertainment industry egos and the mechanics of putting together a TV show, it too often soft peddles its message and succumbs to cliché.

Emma Thompson plays Katherine Newbury a flinty (and sometimes downright rude) late-night talk show host whose attempt to bring a sophisticated element to the show has seen it lose touch with its fan base and its ratings plummet. With her boss (The Office’s Amy Ryan) hovering like a vulture in anticipation of her demise and her all-white, male, nerd writing staff afraid to confront Katherine for fear of a proper British tongue-lashing, the show seems lost. The arrival of perky new Indian-American writer Mollie (Mindy Kaling) a dedicated fan of Katherine, may provide the breath of fresh air the show needs or sink it even quicker.

As a workplace comedy, the film at times recalls the Robert de Niro/ Anne Hathaway vehicle The Intern where a new employee, separated from the herd by demographics, proves an unlikely but insightful confidante to a seemingly successful yet inwardly troubled boss. Like that film, the emphasis here is on the growing respect between the two as well as the employee’s upward mobility. In the case of Late Night, this makes for a gentle, amiable but not exactly hilarious comedy. While Mindy Kaling’s script is often literate and perceptive about the difficulties faced by females in the workplace, office power struggles and celebrity arrogance, the gags just aren’t as funny or cutting as they could have been.

Still, it’s hard to go wrong with a cast that includes such wonderful actors as Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling and as Katherines’ husband, John Lithgow. Thompson plays up the contemptuous British snob angle just enough to make Katherine someone worthy of a comeuppance but not completely contemptible. She also injects her commentary about entertainment industry sexism with poignant world-weariness. Mindy Kaling, who was unforgettable in The Office, is as charming as ever and provides an impressively resilient role model for anyone struggling in a new job. In a smaller role John Lithgow once again brings dignity and pathos to an ailing character.

Late Night isn’t the potent satire of TV many may have wanted and it never quite gains the needed dramatic momentum but it has enough impressive and even touching moments to make it worth a look.

Nick’s rating: ***

Genre: Comedy/ drama.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Nisha Ganatra.

Release date: 8th Aug 2019.

Running time: 102 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.

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