Late Night – Movie Review
Directed by Nisha Ganatra, Late Night is a comedy-drama about an American late-night talk show host named Katherine Newbury whose show’s ratings are on decline and she needs to work with her writers to save her show from being cancelled. Problem is the writers have never worked closely with her before even though they’ve been on the job for years and now they’re either afraid of her or just have no idea how to improve her show.
Katherine hires Molly Patel to join the team. A young ambitious writer who’s not afraid to tell Katherine as it is and offer some fresh, relevant jokes to hopefully help turn the show around but nobody takes her seriously due to her inexperience and lack of qualification. Furthermore she’s the only female and the only non-white employee in the whole company.
Like Devil Wears Prada (2006) and The Intern (2015), Late Night does recycle the familiar formula that revolves around a popular boss and her new employee. It’s okay when a film has cliches and tropes as long as it makes very good use of them and Late Night really does.
I really enjoyed the satirical nature of the film and I like how boldly and intelligently it explores some of the recent social issues in the U.S. that we see and hear these days. It’s all very well written, acted and executed in a believable and yet humourous way.
The performance by Oscar-winner Emma Thompson as Katherine is great. Without Thompson, I don’t think this film would’ve worked as well as it did. I’m even convinced that Thompson could actually be a good talk show host. Katherine is older, outdated, harsh, cruelly straightforward, unwilling to change and very British. She is the type of cold-hearted bitch that you would hate in the real world but Thompson and the writing manage to make the character very likable. Kinda reminds me of House M.D (2004-2012 TV series).
It’s somehow a joy to watch every time Katherine delivers her harsh, cruel lines to the other characters. I do agree with some of her opinions and how stupid some popular things are today but the problem is the way she chooses to react or ignore them.
Due to criticisms of not being diverse, Katherine hires Molly, a young, bubbly, ambitious and self-motivated Indian-American who’s a huge fan of Katherine’s. She understands she’s only hired to make the company seem more diverse but she has a lot of heart and is fearless to openly offer her unorthodox ideas to her verbally hostile boss who would fire anyone at any time she pleases. Mindy Kaling, who’s also the screenwriter of the film, does well playing Molly but I am really more impressed by her work with the script.
I really enjoyed the wittiness and dynamics of the relationships between Katherine, Molly and the rest of the male writers. It’s fun seeing how they need to overcome obstacles and issues of their own doing to save the show. If you watch late-night shows like the ones by Ellen Degeneres, Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Fallon, etc., you might also find it interesting to see how their creative process works in general although it may be a deliberate bad example of their workplace.
The film manages to be funny while it does its social commentary on workplace diversity, sexism, talkshow business, generation gap, social media, the #MeToo issue and more. The film approaches and faces all these issues well and unpretentiously albeit in quite a crowdpleasing, feel-good manner. The only real problem is that some characters felt underdeveloped or just mostly sidelined after being introduced. I guess they’re just not crucially necessary for the main purpose and story of the film.
Late Night is not a movie for everyone, I’d have to say. Maybe that’s why it only has a limited release here in Malaysia. But if you do watch American or British late-night shows, have decent pop-culture understanding and know about the social issues there, I think you will find this film highly enjoyable.
Genre: Comedy drama
Running Time: 102 minutes
Director: Nisha Ganatra
Screenwriter: Mindy Kaling
Cast: Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, John Lithgow
Malaysia Release Date: 1 August 2019
Local Distributor: Sony Pictures Malaysia
Production: FilmNation Entertainment, 30West, Imperative Entertainment, 3 Arts Entertainment, Kaling International