Late Night

 

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Women take the central roles in a comedy centred on a TV talk show with falling ratings.

 
Late Night

A pseudo-feminist Emma Thompson

  

Late Night is a film buoyed up by the sheer professionalism of its star, Emma Thompson. It is that quality which makes watching the movie quite pleasurable in spite of the numerous criticisms that can validly be made of its screenplay. As it happens, the writer is Thompson’s co-star Mindy Kaling and what she gives us is a comedy set in the world of American television. Thompson plays Katherine Newbury, an English woman resident in New York, who for some twenty years has hosted a successful late night TV programme offering comedy and interviews. Kaling’s role is that of a naive newcomer, Molly Patel, who by a fluke is taken on to join the team of writers involved on Tonight with Katherine Newbury. She lands this post despite her total lack of experience because the show is losing popularity and Katherine decides that she can no longer ignore criticisms of the fact that those working for her are all males.

 

As a satirical comedy Late Night seeks to be a contemporary one touching on such matters as females functioning in a world of subsisting male privilege, changing tastes in entertainment and the banality of much popular television today. Having Kaling as the writer and another woman, Nisha Ganatra, as director makes it rather unexpected when the film includes lines that can find a comic aspect in current feminist attitudes, but the fact that Late Night seeks to be topical only serves to emphasise how much sharper the screenplay needed to be. However, if you push that issue to one side you are immediately faced by another. As writer, Kaling might well have made her own role as the young girl into that of a real heroine, someone who against the odds successfully challenges the unfeeling methods of her new boss (Katherine does not even know the names of her writers and prefers to give them numbers to which they must answer). But, with the head of the network (Amy Ryan in a cameo role) seeking to replace Katherine and bring in a young stand-up comic (Ike Barinholtz) as a replacement, it becomes clear that we are meant to root for Katherine (even Molly blends her criticisms of her with expressions of admiration). In truth Katherine is a dominating, ruthless bitch, but Kaling fails to realise that logic would require the role to be so shaped that she becomes the kind of villainess whom we love to hate. Thompson can’t hide this impasse but bravely carries on regardless.

 

Strangely enough, Kaling’s screenplay does belatedly seek to rescue things by giving Katherine a redemption - but it comes far too late to make real sense of the whole and at the expense of plunging the film briefly into something akin to a weepie as it turns serious over Katherine’s relationship with her ailing husband (John Lithgow). Allowing for these various weaknesses and for a supporting cast that is able rather than exceptional, the fact that Late Night is a reasonably entertaining watch is a real tribute to its star. Women are the main contributors to this work, but in that respect Kaling and Ganatra must yield pride of place to Thompson.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, Ike Barinholtz, Max Casella, Hugh Dancy, John Lithgow, Denis O'Hare, Reid Scott, John Early, Megalyn Echikunwoke, Paul Walter Hauser, Amy Ryan, Bill Maher, Seth Meyers, Annaleigh Ashford, Halston Sage, Sakina Jaffrey.

 

Dir Nisha Ganatra, Pro Jillian Apfelbaum, Ben Browning, Mindy Kaling and Howard Klein, Screenplay Mindy Kaling, Ph Matthew Clark, Pro Des Elizabeth J. Jones, Ed Eleanor Infante and David Rogers, Music Lesley Barber, Costumes Mitchell Travers.

 

3 Arts Entertainment/30West/FilmNation Entertainment/Kaling International-Entertainment One.
102 mins. USA. 2019. Rel: 7 June 2019. Cert. 15.