Late Night (2019)


Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BBB.5

USA, 2019, , , , , Screenplay by Cinematography by Produced by , , Mindy Kaling, Music by Production Design by Costume Design by Film Editing by , . 

Mindy Kaling writes and co-stars in this bouncy comedy as a chemical plant manager who gets her shot at her dream life when she snags an interview for the vacant spot on the writing team of her favourite late-night talk show. The show’s host, played with witty perfection by , has been accused of being narrow-minded thanks to her all-white, all-male writer’s room, and Kaling, despite having no experience in the field, is accepted immediately thanks to her ticking off the right boxes as a diversity hire who can solve this glaring publicity issue. With the clearing of that hurdle comes an even bigger problem when Thompson is informed that her twenty-eight years on the air are soon to end and the new president of the network (Amy Ryan in top form) wants to replace her with a younger and hipper Dane Cook-esque comedian (Ike Barinholtz). Kaling walks into a hostile environment from day one, a group of lazy writers who resent the newcomer in their midst and treat her with unapologetic contempt, but they must find a way to band together and revive the tired formula that Thompson has fallen into, which is going to be made that much harder by the fact that Thompson’s character, while impressively hard-working and committed to her career, isn’t all that easy to get close to. Kaling’s balanced script gets a lot of plates up and spinning and keeps them successfully in the air, throwing in elements of both personal and professional lives (she romances two men at the office, Thompson is married to an ailing ) and easily resolving all story issues by the conclusion; her screenplay is unconventional and frequently unpredictable but never erratic or messy, giving as much room to plot twists as it does, thankfully, to her own comedic charm and Thompson’s wickedly charismatic presence. Where it loses its power is that the more it moves towards its At Long Last Wokeness ending, the less it pushes for laughs, as if Kaling doesn’t trust us to get that she’s laughing with the modern, liberal world and not at it and, in place of the kind of ironic humour she so warmly applies to herself, instead emphasizes a kind of sterile sincerity (Thompson’s speech about the misguided modern emphasis on public catharsis as a cure for personal emotional issues doesn’t strike me as being that far off the mark, why does the film present it like it’s a problem?)  What really holds the film back from greatness, though, and this is a glaring element that undermines a great deal of its otherwise solid credibility, is the fact that Thompson’s intellectually-minded late-night show isn’t recognizable as something that exists in the real world, nor does she ever deliver material that you believe this group of guys could ever have written for her. You can either have Charlie Rose or David Letterman, no in-between hybrid has existed yet, and this lowers the stakes for the viewer. That said, for the chance at watching this cast perform these characters, and particularly to see the great Thompson shine in her most delicious leading role since Saving Mr. Banks, this one is well worth the price of admission.

Golden Globe Award Nomination:  Best Actress-Musical/Comedy (Emma Thompson)

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