Saturday 27 July 2019

Late Night ★★★★☆

Here in the UK, the late-night talk show circuit isn’t exactly a cut-throat world. We have Graham Norton and we have Jonathan Ross. That’s pretty much it. Over in the states, however, they have Kimmel and Fallon and Conan and Corden and countless others. It’s an enormous business, with the hosts themselves being the stars. Thus, for UK viewers, Late Night might be a little lost on viewers – we simply cannot relate to the late-night talk show world, and with the entire narrative built around it, will the film find a UK audience?

Late Night follows Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson), a legendary late-night talk show host, as her world is turned upside down when she hires her first and only female staff writer (Mindy Kaling, who also writes the film). Originally intended to smooth over diversity concerns, her decision brings about unexpectedly hilarious consequences as the two women who are separated by culture and generation become united by their love of a biting punchline. The film is refreshing in its narrative; while there is a minor romance in the film, it is so subtle and understated that it is barely worth mentioning. The film is a bromance between two women and is all the more charming and heartwarming for it. 

As with every single film she stars in, the film just belongs to the fabulous Emma Thompson. As the cold, biting Katherine, she slowly reveals a heart below the tough exterior and turns what some actors would make a pretty one-note character into a deep, complex and layered woman. Mindy Kaling is on fine form as always too, doing the Mindy Kaling shtick she’s become known and loved for. A supporting cast includes the ever-brilliant John Lithgow, Veep’s Reid Scott and Hannibal’s Hugh Dancy. A stellar cast – which, in itself, is always a pretty huge make-or-breaker for this kind of character-driven comedy.

But it’s Kaling’s script that is the main attraction here, tackling vital and timely themes in a light-hearted and digestible manner that does not detract from their importance, but rather makes them more accessible and understandable to a mainstream audience. The film deals with issues of workplace equality – particularly sexism and racism – in such a confident and assured manner, without shoving them down our throats and choking us with sentimental political correctness. Under the fluffy comedic surface though, the film is a very sharp and thought-provoking social satire and commentary on modern workplace culture.

Late Night probably isn’t going to be a future classic. I don’t think people will really be talking about it an hour after they’ve seen it, but it’s a warm and pleasing little film that confidently deals with some very important and complex themes in a way that feels fresh and confident. I enjoyed the film immensely thanks to the typically fantastic work from Emma Thompson and both Mindy Kaling’s performance and a sharp script. But whether I will remember any of it in a few weeks remains to be seen. If you’re a fan of any of the cast members or the heartwarming comedy genre, there’s a lot to like in this charming and understated little film of friendship and acceptance.

Sam Love

Late Night at CeX

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