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Late Night – Movie Review

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Late Night – Movie Review

Rating: B (Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy eOne Films

While Tina Fey previously explored the world of television writer’s rooms on her series 30 Rock, she is not the only person with experience navigating that world. Comparisons are probably inevitable with Late Night and how Mindy Kaling and director Nisha Ganatra depict that section of the television arena, but Fey went for more of a farcical approach. Late Night takes a more traditional turn, while also highlighting topical subjects. There is also a major emphasis on the working relationship Kaling’s up-and-coming comedy writer Molly forms with Emma Thompson’s sharp-tongued host Katherine Newbury. The result is a solid comedy that doesn’t do anything particularly groundbreaking for the genre, but still gets by on its cast and humour.

The film is at its strongest when showing the internal organisation of the writer’s room. How accurate this is will depend on those who have experienced that environment, although Kaling’s time working on The Office likely influenced a good amount of her screenplay. The camaraderie between the writers is well portrayed, with the actors giving them their specific quirks and qualities. There is a general sense of their functions within the room and Late Night also presents a basic idea of how a talk show might make it to air. Beyond that, Kaling also seems intent on addressing the possible lack of inclusiveness in television and is able to show the struggles her character faces in pursuit of mere respect.

Emma Thompson’s intelligent wit makes her a fitting choice for Newbury and while the character goes through some expected story beats, the film does throw her a few curveballs. One has to believe that her show would be watched and Thompson’s screen presence allows that element of the film to work. She gets some humourous zingers at both Molly’s expense and the writers in her employment. There are also great interactions with her producer, played by an on-point Denis O’Hare. One of the funniest moments comes from an interaction between Newbury and a brash new comic played by Ike Barinholtz. Barinholtz’s facial expressions just make the scene even funnier.

There are elements of social commentary peppered throughout Late Night, with some obvious nods to the over reliance on grabbing social media trends, rather than more intellectual endeavors. There are parts where Ganatra and Kaling sympathise with Newbury, while also showing her less desirable traits. In between the main plot and the comedy, there is also John Lithgow’s sympathetic portrait of Newbury’s husband, who is suffering from Parkinson’s disease. It is an easy emotional card to play, but Lithgow makes it work for the most part. Otherwise, Late Night mostly sticks to the Molly-Newbury relationship, which progresses at a solid clip.

Overall, Late Night is a pleasant and likeable comedy that doesn’t necessarily break from formula, but has strengths in other areas. Mindy Kaling is clearly knowledgeable on the subject and does a commendable job with her first produced screenplay. It’s especially helped by Emma Thompson’s presence and one wonders how much she contributed to her own dialogue. The movie definitely aims for topicality and these are important subjects to address, while Nisha Ganatra guides us through in her direction. It’s not necessarily uproarious, though there are moments of hilarity. Instead, Late Night is mostly character focused and these are people we want to follow for the almost 100 minute runtime.

Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison