Late Night

Movie Information

Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling excel in this comedy that's hamstrung by its formulaic structure.
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Director: Nisha Ganatra
Starring: Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, John Lithgow
Rated: R

Mindy Kaling and Oscar-winner Emma Thompson have been hitting the publicity junket pretty hard for their film Late Night. Unless it’s clear that a film is box office gold, an overly aggressive PR campaign can be a red flag. In this case, I think nervous bean counters in Hollywood decided to do everything they could to get people like me — who would watch Thompson read the phone book — to buy a ticket. As suspected, Late Night is a mixed bag, and while funny and often insightful, viewers may find it fairly thin overall.

Thompson stars as Katherine Newbury, an award-winning, veteran late night talk show host who prefers to have conversations with guests like historian Doris Kearns Goodwin than participate in crazy antics with members of the Avengers: Endgame cast. She’s smart, shrewd and a terror to her writing team — think Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada. After being told that she’s going to be replaced with someone younger and more relevant — ironically, a misogynistic white male, convincingly played by frequent cinematic nice guy Ike Barinholtz (Sisters) — she decides to reinvent the show and demands a female writer for her team. Enter Molly Patel (Kaling, Hulu‘s “The Mindy Project”).

Kaling, who also wrote and produced the movie, intelligently tackles such issues as sexism, white patriarchy and generation gaps. The scenes she shares with the all-white, all-male writing team are particularly telling. Drawing on her own experience as a TV writer, the script brims with humor and wit, though it doesn’t evoke as many laughs as one would expect.

Thompson, however, kills it as Newbury, deliciously enjoying the sharp-tongued role, yet honestly exploring the character’s strengths, shortcomings and even hypocrisies. Kaling and Thompson are supported by a great ensemble that includes John Lithgow, Amy Ryan, Hugh Dancy and Reid Scott (HBO‘s “Veep”).

With so much going for Late Night, it’s disappointing that Kaling’s story structure is surprisingly formulaic. Ultimately, its conventionality undermines the considerable talents of its actors and keeps the overall film from providing a great night.

About Michelle Keenan
Michelle Keenan is the Associate Director of Development at Blue Ridge Public Radio. She also reviews movies for Reel Takes / Rapid River Magazine. She is a member of the Southeast Film Critics Association (SEFCA).

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.