"Dying is Easy, Comedy is Hard": Late Night Wastes a Charming Lead Performance
The new comedy Late Night is very concerned with changing the world. Its central premise is all about letting go of the past and moving ahead into a friendlier, more inclusive future. This is a noble goal, of course, but I wish the film could have expanded its message of change to its filmmaking. Unfortunately, the film is as rote and by-the-numbers as can be and is only held together by a truly great leading lady.
This film is about Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson), a legend of the late night talk show world who begins to realize that her old-fashioned comedy and icy demeanor have alienated her audience. She hires a young, inexperienced woman (Mindy Kaling) initially merely to add some diversity to her writing staff, but soon learns that this young writer may be the key to revitalizing her career.
The film manages to hit all the marks of both a "career comeback" and "rising star" narrative, complete with the standard montage to move everything into the third act. Also, it's ironic that the film concerns late night television because it feels like a TV show, with flat, bland cinematography, shot-reverse shot editing, and absolutely no interesting visuals. The film relies solely on its dialogue, which isn't good enough to hold interest throughout. However, Thompson rises above it all with a memorable curmudgeon character. With rapid-fire, acidic put-downs and comebacks (all done with her classic, British sophistication), her presence keeps you entranced, but one great performance isn't enough to save a film this routine. — Forest Taylor
Directed by: Nisha Ganatra // Written by: Mindy Kaling // Starring: Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, John Lithgow, Reid Scott, Denis O'Hare, Hugh Dancy, Max Casella, Paul Walter Hauser, John Early, and Amy Ryan // 102 minutes // Rated R