It’s hard out there for a female late night talk show host, particularly since there are hardly any out there. Desperate Katherine Newbury, host of Tonight with Katherine Newbury, has been doing the late night thing so long that it has now become an institution that has severe complacency issues. The social media-averse star lives an enviable life that she doesn’t enjoy anymore. Aside from a seemingly stable marriage, she finds her happiness nowhere else. Couple her waning creative spirit with a new network executive wanting to get rid of her, and you start to wonder why Newbury won’t just hang it all up. If only there was some way to resurrect that sharp wit that she regularly demonstrates behind the camera and somehow make her more relatable again…
This is where Molly Patel comes in, a former quality control plant specialist/Newbury fangirl applying for a job as one of the show’s writers whose sole work in stand-up involved cheerfully telling jokes like, “If you have a problem, ask the chemist. She’ll always have the solution.”
Maybe her presence will, as one of the film’s less charming fellows says “shake the dust off” the proceedings.
The proceedings may not be dusty but they’re definitely stagnant in the writer’s room. When Patel joins the all-male team, a team that Newbury seems to prefer, she finds out her favorite comedian is in danger of being replaced by someone younger and probably male. Now, the task at hand is for Patel to achieve her dream while Newbury holds onto hers.
Late Night is a breezy fun movie. Here’s why:
• It only takes a minute for each one of them, but Mindy Kaling’s Molly’s beams and Emma Thompson’s Katherine’s frowns are felt instantly. There are exchanges between the two stars that hammer each actress’ strengths whether it be Thompson’s barbs or Kaling’s bewildered reaction to them.
• There was a five second shot of Katherine frowning at the site of two animal toys mounting that hit me on a 12-year-old boy level.
• There is an unveiling of the machinations of the show that, from a mere plebe’s standpoint, seem real. I can only guess there is more than a sliver of reality considering Kaling, a writer herself, is the script’s author. Seeing how the sausage is made, however comedically, is always intriguing.
• During a key scene, Newbury simultaneously takes a swipe at Universal’s failed attempt at starting a franchise with 2017’s The Mummy, ageism, and sexism. God, I hated that movie.
• As uncomfortable and collar tug-worthy as it was, a scene where a soul-crushed Newbury interviews a YouTube sensation was pretty terrific.
• The men in the writer’s room aren’t broad dickhead caricatures but human beings. A lesser-written film would have been fine with them being evil defined to make a point about a lack of diverse voices.
Of the negatives? I had three things.
• One had to do with the fact that Hugh Dancy is in this film. Don’t get me wrong, I like him and all. I just wish he was working on that unfinished Hannibal series again.
• Also, I know and understand the point of montages. They’re necessary to show a passage of time et cetera, et cetera. I just think I don’t dig them unless it involves ’80s movies.
• The film has a sitcom-inspired vibe which comes as no surprise considering director Nisha Ganatra (Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Fresh Off the Boat, The Mindy Project among a host of other TV shows) and her flair for workplace satire.
It’s rare you find it in a major summer comedy release but Late Night has deftly mixed comedy-drama tropes, with insights on all the -isms, inclusivity, and a fresh perspective on the entertainment industry without ever feeling preachy or demonizing.
One More Thing
On a related side-note, Ganatra, in the early days of her career, directed, co-wrote, and starred in a good indie film called Chutney Popcorn. I saw it on digital video disc back when Siths and Goblets of Fire were a thing. I always wondered if that director did anything else and realized via my reading up on Late Night that her career only blossomed from there. (Boy was my head in the cinematic sand). If you check out and subsequently enjoy Late Night, feel free to check out Chutney Popcorn on … well any VOD platform out there aside from Netflix.
Late Night — Rated R. Directed by Nisha Ganatra. Starring Mindy Kaling, Emma Thompson, Amy Ryan, Hugh Dancy, and Halston Sage.