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Late Night

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Mindy K. opines, “Of course writing an original screenplay is harder than adapting! I mean, the author’s already done your work!” Dame Emma, Academy Award winner for Best Adapted Screenplay for Sense and Sensibility, listens with mounting anger.

Synopsis: A late-night talk show host tries to revitalize her program with a new hire, adding a woman to the all-white-guys writers’ room.

There’s an unspoken decree in American television that late-night talk shows must be hosted by men. Sure, women can chat up guests and wisecrack a bit earlier in the day, safe in the gentle waters of daytime TV. But late night shows exist in rougher waters. After soldiering through the workday and discharging after-work obligations, viewers need a man to officially close-out the day because… Because why? Tradition? Gender convention?

NBC’s the “Tonight Show” set the template in the 1950s of a topical joke-heavy monologue, followed by witty interviews of stars. The host roster includes Steve Allen, Jack Parr, Johhny Carson (beginning in 1962), followed by Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien and the current host, Jimmy Fallon. But, hey, Networks, Women’s Liberation was launched in the 1960s! Why is a male host still the standard?

Screenwriter Mindy Kaling’s Late Show injects a bit of fantasy into our reality with Emma Thompson starring as Katherine Newbury, a longtime late-night talk show host who reluctantly faces her falling ratings. She agrees to a diversity hire after being accused of being a woman who doesn’t like other women. Molly Patel (Mindy K) gets the job. A bit more fantasy, the new hire has never had a job writing comedy. But she is a woman. Good enough. Ha ha?

In the spirit of a workplace comedy, it’s time for Movie Loon to conduct a performance review of Late Night

First off, Dame Emma is always welcome onscreen whether she’s shining in Henry V as the prospective queen, being loopy as Prof. Trelawney in the Harry Potter movies or acting cheeky in Love Actually. In Late Night she is ice cold as Katherine. She’s mean to employees in the same vein as Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestley in The Devil Wears Prada. She piles scorn on her staff, refusing to learn their names, instead referring to them by numbers. Her misanthropic snark is funny to a point. But when she blithely fires employees and viciously belittles employees, are we really supposed to believe that this a-hole will have an epiphany? Oh, goodness! Others have feelings? Now that I know that, I’ll change my ways!

Katherine doesn’t treat everyone with contempt; she’s tender with her husband. John Lithgow’s Mr. Katherine Newbury is charmed by her every phrase and is an exceedingly boring character. It made me long for Lithgow’s soup commercials. In one ad he danced through a fancy restaurant while singing with zeal about Campbell’s Selects. He solidified his status as the go-to-guy for luxury soup production when he shilled for Progresso. In one gem, he demands high-quality ingredients with the haughtiness of a king. But back to your movie’s casting of Emma Thompson…

Good choice! She commands the screen whether tossing off one-liners or getting teary like she did in Love Actually when she finds out that her husband, Snape (Alan Rickman) is cheating on her. And she has some fun with a Gen X douche whom the network wants her to play nice with on-air. She pastes on a wide smile and flashes her eyes with a jolly madness.

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“Let me explain it to you again. The formula is base salary times 1 for women and base salary times two for men. What don’t you understand?”

Mindy Kaling is a welcome presence onscreen, even if her character comes off a bit weird. Is it just me or is this a thing that has migrated from TV, where the actors who are nearly forty are cast as characters whose professional and romantic lives play out like they are college interns?

The movie has a running joke about how Molly was the funniest person who worked at the chemical plant, her last job. She is sweet and guileless; shrugging off her boss’s abuse, when anyone else would be complaining to somebody, anybody (!) about what a mofo they work for. And she is remarkably unsophisticated as to how to interact with her boss or fellow employees. She also adorkably mishandles her potential love life. I thought: No one who lives in the city or any of the boroughs could be like this after twenty years as an adult. But then I remembered that she’s supposed to be from Pennsylvania; this and landing her dream job is supposed to explain her behavior. Sorry, unless she is Amish, I can’t buy it.

Ahem, moving along with the review per HR instructions…

Bold–and laudable– move to explore the serious topics of workplace diversity, white privilege and sexism in a comedy. Fortunately, the subject matter doesn’t weigh down the humor. The majority of the jokes land, including poking fun of white savior complex and the “difficulties” that men face with the #metoo movement.

Wrapping things up…  Late Night, Emma Thompson’s performance and Mindy Kaling’s joke writing make for a mostly successful movie, even with lightly drawn characters and a truly treacly sorry-not-sorry monologue.

MovieLoon.Blog Movie Overview:

Grade: C+

Cut to the Chase: Fresh topic, a little bland, but worth a look.

Humor Highlight: When Emma Thompson’s late-nite host takes her mic to the streets.

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