Late Night

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

Late Night
dir Nisha Ganatra
scr Mindy Kaling
prd Jillian Apfelbaum, Ben Browning, Mindy Kaling, Howard Klein
with Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, John Lithgow, Hugh Dancy, Reid Scott, Ike Barinholtz, Amy Ryan, Denis O'Hare, Max Casella, John Early, Paul Walter Hauser, Luke Slattery
release US/UK 7.Jun.19
19/US 1h42

lithgow dancy barinholtz
sundance london film fest

kaling and thompson
A smart, lively script by Mindy Kaling offers plenty of material for ace scene-chewer Emma Thompson to create another of her textured, memorable screen characters. Bright and genuinely funny without being overly hilarious, the film takes a knowing poke at ageism, sexism and racism in show business. Refreshingly, it's never preachy because it keeps the focus on the characters rather than the themes. And the characters are enormously entertaining.
Katherine (Thompson) has been hosting her late-night New York chat show for 28 years, and things are getting a bit stale. When the network boss (Ryan) tells her she's being replaced by a crass stand-up comic (Barinholtz), she decides to fight back, hiring woman-of-colour Molly (Kaling) to join her jittery all white-male writing team. Molly's honest criticism is transgressive in this office, but she makes her points heard. And changes she proposes help improve the show's ratings. But can she survive in this man's world in which her harshest foe is her female boss?
The script has a lot of fun playing with gender issues, touching on tangled issues of both bigotry and romance in a workplace. But the characters are so strong that they never let the topics overshadow them. Katherine is larger than life, a domineering force who conceals her insecurities in wicked cynicism. And basically all the men are doing the same thing, worried that creativity or honesty will cost them their comfy jobs. The balance is redressed by both Molly and Katherine's husband Walter, played with edgy sensitivity by Lithgow.

Thompson relishes the various aspects of Katherine's persona, from her fiercely alienating leadership style to her crippling doubts. Her engagement with each of the other characters zings with snappy dialog. Her timing is spotless, so when Katherine lowers her guard its genuinely moving. Kaling is also engaging as the amusingly earnest Molly, who jostles mainly with the men on the team, including Dancy's hot-funny Charlie, Scott's sardonic-but-observant Tom and O'Hare as Katherine's overprotective producer.

Oddly, the subplots involving two of these men never go anywhere meaningful, as they simply vanish without resolution. And there are other elements that seem a little unfinished. But the central story of an unlikely friendship between this venerable star and an inexperienced youngster is very nicely written, directed and played. The irony is that female hosts shouldn't be this fictional. And on the basis of this performance, imagination-free American TV executives will no doubt offer Thompson her own show.

cert 15 themes, language 1.May.19

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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall