The Late Night US chat show circuit is a pretty gruelling, brutal and unforgiving place and writer /actress Mindy Kaling is only too familiar with it having worked in the writers rooms on a variety of shows such as ‘Saturday Night Live’ and the US version of ‘The Office’. Here she brings her insider knowledge of what goes on in her first feature film screenplay, Late Night.
With Emma Thompson in sparkling cynical stride she plays British comedian Katherine Newbury with her own late night chat show that’s been running for decades. Unfortunately it’s running out of viewers too as she refuses to move with the times with guests being people who are famous for having achieved something rather becoming famous for posting YouTube clips of dog’s bottoms being sniffed which is how one of her guests has achieved stardom. It’s out of necessity that she has the dog bum sniffing vacuous airhead on because a new female President of the channel decides to axe the show due to dwindling audiences and lack of relevance to modern day viewers. It’s a fair point as no TV show really warrants running for decades and even the biggest shows usually jump the shark at some point. Take ‘Big Brother’ which carried on for about 15 years longer than it should have with even the people who have appeared in the later series probably unable to remember the name of their fellow housemates. Perhaps if they’d taken our suggestion to introduce a Bengal tiger as a housemate it would have reinvigorated audience interest.
It’s only when Molly (Mindy Kaling) an Asian chemical plant employee who wants to write comedy who turns up at the right time as Newbury knows her writers room of white males needs diversity and Molly ticks two of the boxes. It’s a dream come true for her as she idolizes Newbury but is not afraid to tell it like it is to the horror of the other writers who live in fear of the host and are referred to by numbers by Newbury yet have never been allowed to meet. It’s these little insights which must be based on Kaling’s real life experiences. So with the show about to be axed for a brash new male host Newbury needs to boost her flagging figures and it’s Molly who begins to turn it around.
For the first two acts this is entertaining enough with some savvy and pertinent quips. Unfortunately as a Hollywood movie in a time of #MeToo and #TimesUp you just know how this must end. In that respect Late Night has a template which it sticks to and won’t veer from with no twists or unexpected moments and the inclusion of the obligatory meaningful monologue of life lessons learnt. Late Night is formulaic with its appeal being the female led cast but Thompson is great as is Kaling despite no scenes which really show her character’s comedy chops saving the day. Ironically when the female roles in so many films are usually underwritten here its the seven male writers who make up the writers room that are thinly drawn and doesn’t really develop any of them satisfactorily and John Lithgow is wasted in an underwritten role as the husband. But Late Night does provide a glimpse behind the scenes of TV that’s better than the show it features.
Here’s the Late Night trailer…….