As a lover of late night talk shows, I really shouldn’t be surprised that I made the subconscious choice to wear my Jimmy Kimmel Live! shirt to see Late Night. With a cast that I was sure would keep me happy, I found myself quite underwhelmed, though not completely disappointed. Late Night is an okay comedy, but still very important.
Known for directing numerous hit TV shows including Transparent, You Me Her, and my personal favorite Better Things, Nisha Ganatra is proof we need more women to direct commercial comedies. Though not perfect, I think this resonated with me because it was directed with its female characters in mind. As an aspiring TV writer, I was thoroughly entertained with the accuracy of the depicted writer’s room.
My issue with this film is not the obvious statement of “we need more women writers,” because that’s why I came to see this movie. What bothers me is that Late Night feels like a dramatic reading of a Twitter argument rather than a flagship for progressive filmmaking. Diversity in the workplace, the wage gap, celebrity sex scandals, finding a seat at the table, or in this case, a trashcan seat. While all very real and important topics that I’m happy to see addressed, it’s not organic. It felt like they were trying to explore every single idea without letting the main idea flourish. A really great scene that I felt was of the most memorable is the scene where our main character Molly is waiting to be interviewed. She is a woman of color, specifically Indian descent, in her late 20s while the kid sitting next to her also up for the job is a white male teenager. A man files out of one of the rooms and tells the kid, who we figure out is his older brother, that their dad talked to the network and that he will be fine. The discomfort and reality of this scene will probably haunt me for a long time. Then the look on the older brother’s face later on when he assumes Molly is the new production assistant, but actually won the writing gig over his younger brother was absolute magic.
Katherine Newbury is a long time comedian with a late night talk show that’s losing it’s oomf. With the loss of one of her all white male staff writers, it’s suggested she hire a female writer for ‘diversity’ in a conversation between her and her assistant where he calls her out for hating women. To insist she doesn’t, she agrees to bring a lady on board. Molly Patel, a biochemist and lover of comedy, finds herself at the show’s office with an interview for the position and landing it with no past work in comedy or television, but more so as the diversity hire. When the network informs her she will be replaced, Katherine presses her writers to do something different. Molly’s chain of ideas are challenging to the show and a bit of a threat to the guys and their complacency with the show heading south. While it’s not all totally foreseen, most of the plot is very predictable. I just wish we got into the other characters a little deeper. A lot of the stuff that happens to Katherine is very raw and emotional which helps complete her arc. While this is her story, I feel like it was just as much of Molly’s story as well that I felt we don’t see enough of. It was on the surface and not as much was at stake for her as it was for Katherine. Molly and Katherine’s evolving relationship is rushed in the last half hour of the film and doesn’t seem earned. The guys of the writer’s room are pretty brutal, which felt parallel to similar personal experiences. I’ve been in Molly’s spot, in a room full of guys who don’t care about anything I say. They eventually warmed up to her and it’s a really sweet development for all of them, but they don’t seem to learn from how shitty they treated her. This story was kind of all over the place. Like I said earlier, the ideas were all great and progressive, but as a story it felt like an ornament to hang on the tree to say “Okay well we covered all of this, we should be good.” I don’t want to seem ungrateful for this story, as I really am glad this exists for the sheer purpose of showing how unequal and biased this industry is.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
Emma Thompson is brilliant as Katherine Newbury. I will see to it that she gets her own late night talk show after this or I will sue America. There were many times she made me tear up, but she mostly made me roar from having the best lines. She has a hint of Miranda Priestly, a sprinkle of Ellen, but mostly feels like I’m watching Emma herself play this role. Not that I know her, but she made it feel that real.
Mindy Kaling brings a lot of love and light to the screen as Molly. Though her character is a little annoying, there is no doubt that Mindy really embodies the character and gives us a ton of laughs while exploring her perspective. John Lithgow as Walter, Katherine’s sick husband, made me cry at least 7 times. There is something very puppy dog about his character that makes you just want to hug him until the end of time. I’m so glad he was a part of this cast. The genius Denis O’Hare plays Brad. He nails the humor of the sharp yet stressed out assistant working under Katherine. The guys of the writers room including Reid Scott, Hugh Dancy, Paul Walter Hauser, and John Early are all hilarious. It’s apparent through their performances they strived to emphasize the silliness and comradery, but also the harsh realities that come with working in a writer’s room
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
Lesley Barber, who scored Manchester by the Sea, brings the metro city vibe with short upbeat jazz and subtle acoustic guitar numbers. While nothing to write home about, they fit the plot just fine. I have to be honest though, there are times where music is unnecessary and a bit overdone. It’s just your standard commercial comedy filler music.
The cinematographer, Matt Clark, who shot the majority of 30 Rock, really captured the modern architecture of New York City, especially in most of Katherine’s shots. I like to think this is because she embodies the city in her show. I really appreciated the little shot of a certain building that I want to believe is a nod to 30 Rock when Molly is in Seth Meyers’ office.
This was a lot harder to discuss than I had initially anticipated, and I wish I had a more positive reaction. I think it’s worth the theater ticket pricing, but since it’s produced by Amazon it will most likely be on Prime by the end of this year. It sucks that there aren’t any late night female talk show hosts like Katherine. While we have had some great contenders in the past like Busy Tonight (RIP), it’s hard for the world to see women in the same light as David Letterman and Jay Leno for many silly reasons. I really do hope this film helps dilute that stigma and show that it is possible, and it’s about damn time.