Starring: Emma Thompson (Nanny McPhee), Mindy Kaling (Inside Out), John Lithgow (Shrek), Hugh Dancy (Hannibal), Reid Scott (Venom), Denis O’Hare (American Horror Story), Ike Barinholtz (Blockers), Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone)
Director: Nisha Ganatra (Chutney Popcorn)
Writer: Mindy Kaling (The Mindy Project)
Runtime: 1 hour 42 minutes
Release Date: 7th June (US, UK)
Given how much the late night talk show has been revitalised in recent years with the advent of online video, it’s shocking it has taken Hollywood this long to make a modern comedy set within that world. After all, there’s nothing more tantalising for a comedian to write than a movie about the nature of comedy. But with Late Night, the filmmakers have gone beyond merely dramatising the ins and outs of putting on a show and made something of a landmark to the current state of media; an encapsulation of everything both great and terrible about it, and a clear vision of how we can make it better.
Late Night hits a lot of the expected beats of the workplace comedy: the fresh-faced newstart comes in, the veterans are dubious of them, they make their early mistakes but learn the ropes, they bring fresh ideas to the table, and eventually gain the trust of their new colleagues. However, getting past the formulaic structure, it’s clear that the filmmakers are using the familiar platform as a building block to share topical ideas. There’s the usual suspects like workplace diversity and innovating beyond the “way we’ve always done it”, but there’s also some biting commentary on avoiding controversial topics, patronising to your audience, and possibly the most deftly handled dramatisation of a #metoo moment since the movement went mainstream. Late Night is plenty fun enough in its early moments as it brings a fresh and vibrant energy to a well-established formula, but it truly soars when it breaks into those nuanced topics in its second half, creating a story that will equally inspire new creatives making their first steps and veterans wondering how they’ve lost their way.
Emma Thompson is one of our most darling acting treasures, but certainly not the first face that comes to mind when casting a veteran talk show host. Nevertheless, Thompson owns the role right from her first scene and convinces you she’s been doing this on television for decades. Katherine Newbury certainly has a shade of Miranda Priestly to her with her biting wit and emotional sequestering, but she brings her own sense of tenderness and insecurity to the role that makes her feel absolutely authentic. It’s too easy to portray a celebrity as someone above common concerns, but Thompson not only humanizes Newbury but also makes her a viable stand-in for any maturing woman in denial of their flaws beyond just TV personalities. Mindy Kaling’s bright and eager demeanour makes her a perfect compliment to Thompson’s reluctant anger, but she’s far from just the magic diversity hire who helps the out-of-touch grump learn how to get down with the kids. She too goes through her own struggles that make her a better person and earn the respect of her colleagues, but equally stays true to her convictions and brings to attention everything holding back our entertainment from being more than mindless.
The supporting cast is fantastic across the board, particularly a sobering performance from John Lithgow as Thompson’s long-suffering husband and Ike Barinholtz in a perfect encapsulation of the frat boy mean-spirited comedian. The other members of the writers’ room often feel a bit indistinguishable from each other, which is admittedly part of the point the film is making about homogenous and unproductive staff environments, but special mention must go out to Paul Walter Hauser for yet another fantastic portrayal of an below-average white guy unaware of his own lack of intelligence; seriously, after I, Tonya and BlacKkKlansman, he’s basically cornered the market on these roles.
Late Night is absolutely the workplace comedy we need in 2019, bringing to light not only the pervading problems in our entertainment but in society at large. Thompson and Kaling make for a fantastic pair in comedic chemistry, and I’d happily watch anything else these two do together. This year is quickly proving to be a great year for progressive and intersectional comedies, and Late Night proves this is a trend that deserves to keep on trending.
FINAL VERDICT: 8.5/10