Emma Thompson headlines Late Night, from the pen of Mindy Kaling – and here’s our review.
Director: Nisha Ganatra
Cast: Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, John Lithgow
Release date: 17th June
Reviewer: Freda Cooper
Somebody give Emma Thompson her own chat show. We buy into her presenter in Nisha Ganatra’s Late Night so much that it’s hard to understand why it hasn’t happened. On this evidence, she’d give Corden and Oliver a run for their money.
For now, however, we have to settle for her playing former standup Katherine Newbury, facing the axe from her long-running chat show. The media landscape has changed, but she hasn’t. Cue a crisis, one that calls for new writers with fresh ideas – and in walks Molly (Mindy Kaling, also in her feature screenwriting debut), a fish out of water bringing some healthy diversity to the all-white, all-male writers’ room.
The prospect of losing her precious show means Newbury interacting with her writers for the first time in years. She doesn’t like working with anybody, male or female, and gives them each a number instead of having to remember their names. All she wants is ideas to make the show better so that she keeps her job. Would that it were so simple.
Late Night starts like an express train. The one-liners are pithy, the banter is sharp, but it simply can’t keep up the pace. The momentum drifts so that the humour, good though it is, takes breaks to give the script a recharge and things fall disappointingly flat. Nowhere is this more evident than in its conclusion, which sells the film woefully short. It deserves better. The story of an older woman fighting for survival, and a younger one battling for acceptance, has more heart than might be immediately apparent, especially in the context of a diversity comedy. It’s also personal for Kaling, the only person of colour when she started off writing for the US version of The Office.
While Thompson is undeniably great in her role – it was written with her in mind and it shows – Kaling is her perfect foil, constantly enthusiastic but with her feet planted firmly in the real world. A word, too, for John Lithgow as Thompson’s ailing husband: their all-too-few scenes together are pure class. It’s a measure of how much the chat show is a TV staple that Newbury’s late night slot looks so familiar, that the cameos from real-life late night TV are so pitch perfect – and that the fictional Newbury is perfectly at home there. Thompson herself wouldn’t be out of place, either.