Emma Thompson illuminates the screen as Katherine Newbury, a veteran late-night talk show host. Newbury is the only woman in this television landscape, but a character too familiar in her own celebrated fame over 30 years. With Thompson in the role, Late Night should feel more like The Devil Wears Prada - a lady boss striking fear into the hearts of her staff. Like Meryl Streep before her, Thompson can fire off one-liners with a lethal deadpan that takes no prisoners, and her ability to deliver dismissive looks and hostile barbs to ignite the screen is electrifying.But Late Night falls shy of its target of relevant humour.
Newbury has a tagline she offers to her audience nightly 'I hope I’ve earned the privilege of your time.'Caroline Morton (Amy Ryan), the corporate television executive, feels Newbury hasn’t, and tells her that at the end of the year, a new young male comedian, Daniel Tennant (Ike Barinholtz) will take over. At 56, as Newbury plans to go out fighting, so she meets (for the first time) her flagging team of eight white male writers. Giving each an assigned number rather than learning their names, she spares no bullets in demanding 'scripts that don’t sound like a prison production of Hamlet.' Only her loyal show manager, Brad (Denis O’Hare) can navigate the rough waters of her personality.
When Katherine orders Brad to get a woman on staff to add relevance to the writing team, he finds an unlikely candidate in Molly Patel (Mindy Kaling).Molly is an Indian-American chemical plant efficiency expert from suburban
Mindy Kaling, veteran TV comedy writer on The Office (US) and her own The Mindy Project, wrote the screenplay, her feature-writing debut. Kaling knows about career obstacles to women and people of colour. She also knows something needs to be done to fix it.The film is safely directed by Nisha Ganatra, comfortably moving towards a workplace comedy. Kaling’s screenplay quickly centres around Katherine and Molly — two women working within the constraints of an inherently sexist work culture. Thompson is brilliantly acerbic, dialling up the boss-from-hell dynamic with a stack of withering glares. Kaling is her ideal counterblow —pleasing and idealistic.
There are subplots that pull at the momentum. Newbury is married to the brilliant Walter (John Lithgow, who owns every scene he is in), an NYU Professor Emeritus suffering from Parkinson’s disease.He is a passive witness to all that his wife is going through, including the revelation of a sex scandal with one of her writers.Molly’s ill-fated fling with the same writer, Charlie (Hugh Dancy) is buried in the bigger story of Newbury’s public indiscretion. Kaling’s approach to tackling such a male-dominated TV format is to put a woman in the hot seat and then making her quite obviously not up to the task. Yet Kaling’s geniality gives the film more than enough well-meaning warmth to fall back on, although it doesn’t quite smooth the rough spots. Her script certainly presses topical buttons – it’s bright, lively, difficult to argue with. It just isn’t as funny as the audience hopes it will be, allowing for only a mild giggle or two here and there.