I got out to the movies four times last week. That doesn’t happen very often. So far, the best I’ve seen has been so-so. Will the workplace comedy Late Night change that?
Yeah, I think it will.
Late night talk show legend Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson)’s show isn’t what it used to be. It’s sliding down in the ratings, and no one seems to have the heart to tell Katherine her show isn’t all that good anymore. Why should they? She has a tendency to fire people at the drop of a hat. She notices her writers room only has white men working there, so she instructs her producer to hire a woman. As it is, a woman did get an interview. Her name is Molly Patel (Mindy Kaling), and she has no experience with television writing. Fortunately, Molly has the spark needed to maybe get Katherine’s show back on track before the network lets the TV legend go within a year.
Kaling, who also wrote the script, is fine here. Molly’s character arc is fairly run-of-the-mill as she finds her place in a somewhat hostile work environment. But then there’s Thompson as Katherine. Katherine Newbury is all acid-tongued brilliance. Thompson utterly owns this role. Katherine, as the movie goes along, remembers what hows he got to where she is, coming to personal revelations, and getting better at her job. I don’t know that I found her show-within-a-show all that funny, but Thompson gave the role a lot of life.
Actually, that may be a weakness for the movie. Is Katherine funny? I can buy that she’s a tough boss. I can believe she’s a smart woman. Thompson gives a lot of life to what may be a rote character. But is she funny in scenes where the character is supposed to be funny? Well, she’s no more or less funny than most late night hosts, I’ll say that much. Take that any way you see fit.
But factor in John Lithgow giving a touching performance as Katherine’s husband, an academic dying of Parkinson’s Disease, and you have a good cast giving good performances for what is basically a standard showbiz story. Yes, Kaling’s script does make some space for talk of white privilege and the like, but the basic story is rather familiar if well done.
Though it did seem as if Katherine’s studio audience often has the same people in it for every show.
Still, I had fun with this one. 8 out of 10 chemical plant references.