Review by Dara McWaDe
Late Night, a new comedy featuring an absolutely stellar Emma Thompson as a Late Night host, and TV vet Mindy Kaling as the first female writer on her staff, almost works. It has a fantastic cast, a great premise, and something to say. Unfortunately, for a film about a comedy show, it’s not half as funny as it needs to be, and what it has to say feels watered down.
At Late Night’s core is a lovely story about the power and value of real diversity. Kaling plays Molly Patel, a long-time comedy fan finally trying to pursue her dream of writing for her hero’s late night talk show. Unfortunately, while Thompson’s Katherine Newbury may be successful, she has become cold and resentful of the world around her. Newbury is unwilling to get to know Molly, or any of her writing staff, declaring them all unworthy of names and numbering them instead. However, when her show is put on the bubble, she opens up, and the writers room steps in to help. The foregrounded elements of diversity work really well here, as characters first set-up to be mouthpieces in a debate on workplace diversity slowly become more fleshed-out (with a lot of the white male writers sounding like comments on a racist YouTube video). The parts about Newbury as a woman, however, feel cut down. She’s a fantastically complicated character: prickly and sensitive, but with a deep well of feeling and emotion, resembling a more sympathetic and funny Miranda Priestly.
Shockingly, Late Night is Kaling’s first produced feature screenplay, and her first film credit as a producer - though it may have seemed these past few years that Kaling was a maverick producer, with her obvious creative talents and popular TV work in The Office and The Mindy Project. It’s unfortunate that, while her script has strong bones, it lacks flourish. Joke opportunities are missed, lines fall flat, the set-pieces are tired and story elements appear and disappear with little consistency. It should be noted that the film is funny at times, as there are some jokes that really work. I was in love with any dialogue that came out of Thomson’s mouth. It’s just a pity that sometimes the narrative is less interested in making things funny than it is in dramatic scenes that feel edited down to the lowest common denominator, and placed between a score that sounds like every terrible rom-com you’ve ever seen, with songs from the shudder-worthy Meghan Trainor.
There’s a better film hiding here; one that capitalises on the political dimensions often hinted at, and fully spotlights the brilliant, multi-dimensional woman at its core. Alas, hints at a narrative better than the one presented, perhaps one surrounding the ways in which women have to push down other women to succeed, seem buried in the final cut. It’s a little too pop to match the high-class comedienne at its centre. In fact, she would probably scoff at it.
Late Night opens to Irish screens on June 7.