Released: 8th August
Seen: 11th August
Let’s be honest, late-night network talk shows are a bit of a boys’ club right now. Just for a minute, sit and think about all the female hosts of an American late-night talk show that you can come up with. My list includes Joan Rivers and ends there because there haven’t been any that can be named because there are none that are really known. I can name at least three late-night network talk shows hosted by a guy named Jim but one hosted by a woman? I got nothing. Heck, if I expand out from network I can really only throw in Chelsea Handler, Kathy Griffin and Busy Phillips and that’s if I rack my brain and count shows that aren’t on the air anymore. So to see a movie in theatres that tackles this issue head-on really brought a smile to my face, and the fact that the film is actually really good made the smile so much bigger.
Late Night introduces us to Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson), a talk show host with tons of acclaim but a constantly dropping viewer base. Her choices are clear, either fix the show or lose her job. In an attempt to try and diversify her writers’ room, which up to this point has been made up of entirely white men, she demands that a woman be hired to try and bring new life to the writers’ room. They end up hiring Molly Patel (Mindy Kaling), a woman who used to work in a chemical plant and has never written comedy before but has enthusiasm and an interesting point of view. With Molly’s bright-eyed enthusiasm, Katherine might just be able to save her show after all… provided, of course, that she can get through her own insecurities that made people tune out in the first place.
Some films really rely more on a good script than others. Let’s be blunt, the script for most action blockbusters could be written on a napkin by a guy on his third bottle of vodka and it’d be fine. This film relies on a tight script and this is a genuinely incredible one, bouncing between the inside baseball side of the industry and the heartfelt warmth of the characters. The jokes are well written and fit in every scene, the structure is great and often takes unexpected turns. I liked not knowing how this film was going to end, it pulled the rug out on me enough times that I wasn’t sure if the show was going to be saved or not. It also brilliantly skewers a lot of bullshit about how people treat the concept of diversity in the workroom, showing how the new perspectives can lead to greater entertainment for the audience. It also tackles heavy topics like workplace harassment, the #metoo movement and nepotism with intelligence and great wit.
The performances are, universally, amazing. This shouldn’t be a shock because these are some of the best performers on the planet but turns out, they’re even better than you expect. Emma Thompson absolutely owns this movie with her brilliant delivery and pitch-perfect performance. When she’s tasked with being funny, she kills, and when it’s time for her big dramatic breakdown she will tear out your heart with her performance. Mindy Kaling as Molly is also genuinely incredible, so sweet and earnest you can see her excitement at making it to the writers’ room from the second she walks in and that light never dims for a second. She is really what holds the entire film together, not only from a narrative standpoint but her performance is where all the joy in the film originates and the more time she’s on-screen, the happier everyone else seems to be. The supporting cast around the two leads is genuinely great, everyone gets a moment to shine comedically or dramatically, in some cases both. They make the writers room of this show feel real and you actively want everyone involved to be able to succeed… except for Charlie (Hugh Dancy), we don’t like him, he can’t sit with us.
For some this film might be seen as preachy, it is basically a glowing love letter to the concept of diversity in entertainment. We live in a culture that blew a gasket when a woman held the sonic screwdriver after twelve men had had a go with it, so there will be some who might not appreciate this kind of message but it’s important to have it presented in such simple direct terms. The film makes clear that this isn’t about who is more talented, it pointedly states that everyone involved is just as talented as each other, but it wants to explore more voices and wants to encourage us to hear more voices. Voices that are from people who can tell jokes that others can’t, which they spell out in the scene where Molly gets her first joke into the opening monologue. It’s a great joke, I won’t write it here because you should hear it in the film since it’s an actual plot point, but it couldn’t have come from a male writer without being sexist. They make their point, they make it well and they make it with genuine heart and warmth.
Late Night is a breath of fresh air, a welcome break from the bad remakes and sequels that have seemed to define the year. It’s the kind of movie that has something important to say and knows how to say it in a delightfully charming way. It’s one of those films that’s so good I can’t even pick it apart to find a bad part to drag the score down with at the end. So, I guess that means exactly one thing…