Late Night is kind of a difficult film to review. On one level it is an entertaining comedy that explores the back rooms of a late night comedy program while at the same time it is difficult not to compare the film to some of the better films that have also explored the crazy world of television.
The film is written by and stars Mindy Kaling (The Office, No Strings Attached) as Molly Patel a young chemical plant worker who dreams of being able to write comedy for a larger audience than the people she manages to make laugh at her work-place. She suddenly finds her dream coming true when aging late night host Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson – Love Actually, Saving Mr. Banks) makes the decision to hire a female writer to try and jazz up her ailing show.
Things don’t run smoothly though. First of all the show is given a life sentence by the network but Katherine takes the advice of her husband, Walter Lovell (John Lithgow – 3rd Rock From The Sun, Cliffhanger), who suggests that she can’t be replaced on the show if she makes herself popular and irreplaceable. The second problem that raises its head is the fact that the writers, headed by Tom Campbell (Reid Scott – Veep, The Big C), are not accepting towards Molly as they full she doesn’t deserve her place at the writer’s table. Somehow Katherine needs to be brought kicking and screaming into modern day television while the writers need to learn how to work together.
Kaling’s script is modern and makes several good points about the current day world of television but also at times shoots itself in the foot. While on one hand the film clearly demonstrates the ‘boys club’ that some television stations have become over the years, the film always loses some of its impact when it is pointed out to Molly that she was hired because she was in the right spot at the right time rather than because of her skill. While her comedic writing is top notch you can’t help but wonder if the film would have had more of an impact had her character been unfairly targeted while she had a background that showed her as a brilliant comedy writer. It seems like the film misses out on making a very powerful statement.
What does work for Late Night though is the natural feel of the script that Nisha Ganatra (Transparent, You Me Her) manages to capture on the big screen. The relationships between characters feel very realistic and not that traditional fake Hollywood that happens very often. That is especially the case for the romantic tension between Molly and fellow comedy writer Charlie Fain (Hugh Dancy – Adam, Hannibal). There is none of that stupid Hollywood will they-won’t they crap, instead the film looks at it the way it would happen in real life – two people who like each other but are worried to take it any further because of their own insecurities and doubts.
Likewise the treatment that Katherine Newbury receives from the television network is realistic to what we see in modern days. Shows that have been around for generations, shows like The Footy Show, are suddenly considered not current or not PC enough for modern times and personalities that have given their lives to the network are cast aside like yesterday’s newspaper. Many of the older audience members would also relate to the notion that their old favourites are being replaced by younger, crasser comedians as well.
The naturalistic script also brings out the best in the cast. Emma Thompson puts in an amazing performance managing to mix drama and comedy incredibly well. She is funny when she needs to be and puts in the hard yards with some touching and emotional scenes with John Lithgow as well. For Mindy Kaling this is one of her best performances outside of The Office while both Hugh Dancy and Reid Scott put in credible performances as well.
There are times during Late Night where you wonder if the film will be able to do anything memorable, especially if you compare it to a film like the brilliant Morning Glory. That being said though when Late Night hits full stride it becomes a film full of characters so interesting you would like to see their journey continue on the small screen while it also makes valid points about the state of today’s television world. Smartly written and natural in feel Late Night is just the right mix of comedy and drama.