Starring: Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, Reid Scott
Director: Nisha Ganatra
Running Time: 102 mins
Late Night is an American film about a seasoned talk show host who, in the face of falling ratings, requests a shake-up to her male-dominated writers’ room, hiring an ambitious young woman to bring a new flavour to her show.
With a wealth of talent on display across the board, Late Night has all the potential to be both a thoroughly funny and dramatically engaging watch, furthered by a timely and interesting take on a number of issues in the media world. However, while it is a likable and often funny movie, it really misses the mark when it comes to delivering on some of its more serious topics, often falling by the wayside with unchallenging satire and one-dimensional characters that leave its key ideas feeling a little too on the nose.
But let’s start with the best part of Late Night, the lead performances from Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling. While the film features an enjoyable and charismatic supporting cast as well, Thompson and Kaling do a great job at making the lead characters as likable and funny as possible, even when the screenplay isn’t quite up to the comedic standard that it often sets itself.
Of course, a comedy movie about comedy and being funny is never easy to pull off, and the fact that the screenplay isn’t a laugh-a-minute riot proves a little disappointing, but it’s Kaling and Thompson’s delightful performances – working well both individually as well as as a duo – that make Late Night ultimately a thoroughly enjoyable and likable movie, and one that had me smiling a great deal throughout.
Now, beyond those lead performances, there’s a lot about Late Night that seems rather disappointing, but that is in part because it seems to be a film with a very high expectation of itself. Not only does it have the pressure of being funny because of its analysis of what makes comedy funny, but it also tackles a number of burning issues and problems in the modern world that bring a very serious drama element into play.
However, while there is definitely merit to its discourse about institutionalised sexism and the gender gap, its delivery of satire on the topic is more often than not disappointingly simplistic. When it’s handling the topic a little more seriously and earnestly, things are more interesting, but as what’s often meant to be a hard-hitting, biting satire, there really isn’t all that much in the way of challenging or properly ingenious writing or ideas at play, as the film often settles for a frustratingly simplistic and rather on-the-nose depiction of the media world as a boys’ club, and the divide between genders in the professional sphere.
It’s a real shame, because that’s a topic that deserves great attention and insight, and a good bit of satire is always the best way to engage a wide audience in the issue. However, while the film does well to introduce those ideas throughout, it just comes across as a rather underwhelming watch, particularly when set against those lofty standards it sets itself throughout.
The saving grace, however, is that the film’s personal drama is actually the best part of all. As a comedy, Late Night is a likable watch, but not hilarious, and as a contemporary satire, it’s far from stellar, yet when it doubles down and gives a strong, intimate insight into its characters, it actually proves a thoroughly engaging watch.
Of course, the engagement and connection you feel with the leads comes significantly from those excellent two lead performances, but it’s also strengthened by a more streamlined and level-headed focus from director Nisha Ganatra and the screenwriters that comes into its own in the final act.
Over the majority of the movie, the story tries to balance too many different themes, genres and characters, with Mindy Kaling and Emma Thompson’s stories playing out in parallel, but never really gelling together all that well at any point, creating a frustrating disconnect in the middle of the movie.
That all changes in the final act, though, as the film gives a riveting insight into the psyche of a frustrated veteran of the late night talk show, bringing depth to Thompson’s character for the first time, while also connecting Kaling’s story in far more effectively. Its attempts at satire and laughs disappear almost entirely in the latter stages, but the movie finishes on a high with a surprisingly tender and genuine finale.
Overall, then, I will say that I liked Late Night, but not as the hilarious comedy or clever satire it often sets out to be. Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling are great in the lead roles, and play a big part in making the movie a charismatic and enjoyable watch, while the story ultimately succeeds once it doubles down on more genuine and intimate emotional drama.
However, the film still feels somewhat of a disappointment when it comes to its key themes, failing to get into the nitty gritty of both its discourse on comedy and sexism, too often coming up with frustratingly simplistic remarks on the issues, and thereby taking away from the value of a film that could have been more than just a likable, enjoyable watch, which is why I’m giving Late Night a 7.0.