Late Night (2019) Review

THOMPSON AND KALING SHINE

IN A TOPICAL DRAMEDY


 

Late night talk shows have been around for quite some time, taking the TV viewing spotlight during the late hours of the night and presenting a wide variety of comedy monologues, guest star appearances, and silly routine angst that keep viewers coming back for more. Created in the US (though not limited to the rest of the world), this form of the talk show genre variety is mostly geared towards today’s current events and of recent pop culture as told within an average of half hour timespan (sometimes longer). While there’s been numerous late-night talk show hosts (over the years), some of the famous highlighted ones include Jay Leno (The Tonight Show), Ed Sullivan (The Ed Sullivan Show), Johnny Carson (The Tonight Show), David Letterman (Late Show with David Letterman), and many others. Now, Amazon Studios (Film Nation Entertainment) and director Nisha Ganatra present a cinematic satire of the late-night talk arena with the film Late Night. Does this dramedy find laughs / approval rating with its audience or does it fail to find its “inner monologue” voice within its movie narrative?

THE STORY


With an extensive career of comedy, Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson) is an acclaimed host of a late-night talk show for nearly 30 years, but is now facing a certain crisis of relevancy, with her show’s rating plateauing years ago and now are on a sharp decline. With Katherine’s stubborn personality of not wanting to change the show’s formula much, the President’s Network, Caroline Morton (Amy Ryan), informs the icon that she’s going to be replaced by a younger talent the following year. Outraged and frustrated, Katherine finally pays a visit to her writer’s room, which is collectively made of a group of men who don’t have any idea how to represent her and / or to “spice up” new material to build around her stale personality. In a way to show change, Katherine insist on bringing on a new hire to her writer’s team, with the show hiring Molly Patel (Mindy Kaling), who’s traded management at a chemical plant for a chance to dream up jokes for her idol, but she’s having difficult time with the “boy’s club” atmosphere the writing team puts off. Daring to be honest about the show, Molly, attempting to make her presence known amongst her co-workers, triggers something within Katherine, which struggles to find her voice again as she fights to save the program; confronting the “changing of times” within the public’s opinion as well as confronting some of her own personal problems.

THE GOOD / THE BAD


What can I say about late night TV talk shows? Well, I do occasionally watch them. Like most people out there, I usually end my evening watching some of the late-night talk shows. It might every which program I watch here and there as I’m more interested in watching on who’s gonna be on it than who’s hosting the show. Thus, I’ve seeing plenty of late-night talk show hosts come and go over the years, but I always enjoy some of their skits that several of them have done as well as some of the “current” trends in their opening monologues. Like the ones I mentioned above, I’ve seeing many of the talk show hots (of my time), including Jay Leno, Conan O’Brian, David Letterman, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, and so on and so forth. Perhaps my new “current” favorite one to watch is The Late Late Show with James Corden (love the whole “Carpool Karaoke” bit). In short, late night talk shows will most likely continue to appear on television network stations, with the interchanging of host, but still carry on the traditions of the brand name of witty monologues, silly skits, and celebrity guest appearances.

This brings me back to talking about the 2019 comedy / drama film Late Night. To be quite honest, I really didn’t hear much about this movie. There wasn’t a big announcement of the movie (via online) and can honestly saw that it was on anyone’s radar as a “must see” movie. Furthermore, I remember only seeing the movie trailer once or twice (I think) when I went for my weekly movie theater outings at my local cinema theater. So, to be sure…. Late Night’s pre-release marketing campaign wasn’t super high. Thus, I was intrigued to see the movie, especially since I am a fan of Emma Thompsons’s work. I went to see the movie a few weeks after its release, but I kept on pushing doing my review for the film for a while as more prominent movies started to come out and I wanted to do them beforehand. Now, as I finally have some “free time” on my hands, I can write (and you can read, my followers) what I thought of Late Night. What did I think of it? Well, I liked it. Despite a few predictable points, Late Night is fun and likeable dramedy endeavor that speaks to the modern age at the workplace as well as being entertaining motion picture (thanks to the cast). It’s not exactly new or original cinematic material, but its much shaper and poignant than past projects.

While Late Night was originally supposed to be directed by Paul Feig, who’s known for directing films like Bridesmaids, Spy, A Simple Favor, the film project was eventually handed to director Nisha Ganatra. While most of Ganatra’s directorial career is made up of working on various TV shows, including You Me Her, Brooklyn Nine Nine, and Transparent, Ganatra makes Late Night her most ambitious project to date, with a feature film that has a theatrical release (set in the summertime of 2019), two recognizable lead actresses in today’s current Hollywood film industry (as well as other), and topical story / plot that speaks today’s workplace climate (more on that below). To her credit, Ganatra actually does good job in the director’s chair, making Late Night feel like a theatrical film release from prominent Hollywood studios, but also retains a somewhat “indie” (i.e. smaller scale independent) feel / nuance to the feature’s proceedings. Thus, this quasi endeavor of feeling both and small scale (as a motion picture) is quite endearing and sort of easy to digest as a whole, which (of course) makes watching Late Night enjoyable from start to finish. Ganatra doesn’t do much in the way of taking risk or challenging in the role of director, but rather finds a pleasant groove to settle in the feature’s framing by keeping the story focuses on its characters (primarily the lead ones of Katherine Newbury and Molly Patel), which (in hindsight) is relatively good thing. Additionally, Ganatra makes many of the “talk show” scenes to be quite fun and geninuely interesting, showcasing the classic nuances of the late night tentpole aspects of which we all know and love.

Perhaps one of the greatest strengths and highlights that Late Night has to offer is in its own story or rather the topical commentary message it discusses within its cinematic telling. The film’s script, which was penned by actress Mindy Kaling (who has shown her script writing ability in several other projects), discusses several important themes, including the idealisms of the workplace, especially of the unbalanced nature of both gender (men and women) and of the diversity. This, of course, is of paramount importance in today’s current world views and certainly speaks to modern age of the workplace that sometimes unfair environment of women in a more dominant male atmosphere as well as diversity change of the people’s climate. Other topical debates that Kaling’s script touches upon is the clash between “old school vs. new school”, which is a timeless nuance of storytelling, as well as the examination of what to say and what not to say in the public eye. As many readers know, social media has consumed most of our lives (whether we want to admit that or not) and the idea of what you say can have a “ripple effect” on how your peers or public opinion. Late Night touches upon that idea in an interesting way, especially when talking about political / social material. Of course, they movie could’ve gone further with this view point, but more on that below. In the end, the commentary message showcases in the film’s script harkens back to today’s current society’s and are relevant to all.

The presentation of Late Night is quite pleasant to look at and definitely adds a subtle layer to the feature’s narrative. Of course, the story’s background setting utilizes the downtown metropolitan area of New York City is a good way and definitely brings a certain lifestyle nuances of living / working in the “big city” to the proceedings. Naturally, the film’s technical individuals, including Starlet Jacobs (art direction), Henriette Vittadini (set decorations), and Mitchell Travers (costume designs) probably won’t garnish any critical / acclaim praise and / or award nomination for their efforts in Late Night, but then again…. Late Night isn’t that type of movie. Thus, to me personally, I think that certainly do great work in making this movie world feel fine and pleasing to the eye (i.e. no harm, no foul). Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by Lesley Barber, falls into that same category; providing enough theatrical musical moments to help “set the mood” of the feature’s various scenes.

Perhaps the big thing that Late Night has going against it is in its overall formulaic nature of its narrative progression. While the story being told is compelling enough to make a feature film around it, the actual plot formula of it all feels somewhat familiar. Even without really delving into the movie, I pretty much guessed a lot of the big plot points during the film’s first act and they actually turned out to be what I predicted. That’s not to say that the movie was dull or not entertaining, but it just seems that the Lat Night’s narrative path / progression is one that everyone can see coming and not so surprising. Another criticism I have with the movie is focusing on the feature’s script. While Kaling has proving to be quite talented (both in front and behind the camera), the script for Late Night tends to falter in various parts. This is most apparent in some of the film’s sub-plots that are presented, but aren’t fully examined enough and sort of fall to the wayside as the movie reaches its conclusion. Personally, I saw a lot of potential that certain characters and storytelling moments that could’ve been easily expanded upon to add more “meaty substance” to this movie and could’ve added to the enjoy of the film….in a wholesome way. Additionally, the script does have a few common clichés that the story presents and, while their inconclusion is okay, it can be a bit of “eye rolling” inducing (even for the modern time period the film’s story takes place in). In the end, I just can’t help wondering if Late Night could’ve been more ambitious than somewhat playing it safe.

The cast of Late Night is really good, with a couple headliners starring in the main spotlight of the feature as well as several recognizable faces in more supporting roles. Nevertheless, all acting talents in the movie are well-represented (in Late Night’s story thematic context) and are perfectly casted in all roles. Spearheading the movie are actresses Emma Thompson and Mind Kaling as the feature’s main two leads of Katherine Newbury and Molly Patel respectfully. Thompson, known for her roles in Sense and Sensibility, Saving Mr. Banks, and Brave, brings a “seasoned veteran” aspect to both the film (as an actress) and to her character Katherine. Naturally, Thompson is great in delivering her lines with witty sharpness and is fully on display; providing Katherine Newbury with enough humorous lines as well as being vulnerable with the changing of times and of her personal life. To me, it was just simply great to see Thompson as Katherine as I loved her in the movie. Likewise, Kaling, known for her roles in The Office, Inside Out, and The Mindy Kaling Project, brings a certain quirky new energy to her character of Molly, showcasing the youthful eagerness and naivety of entering a somewhat “boys club” environment in the movie and trying to find her role therein. Kaling also a certain warmth and relatability that makes the character so endearing to watch throughout the film’s progression. Together, both Thompson and Kaling give off great screen chemistry with each other (in a genuine way), which makes the counterpart fictional characters that much more endearing when they paired together on-screen.

With a lot of time spent with Thompson and Kaling’s characters, the rest of the cast are in more of supporting roles in both secondary and minor characters that bolster the main leads respectfully. This includes actor John Lithgow (Cliffhanger and 3rd Rock from the Sun) as Walter Lovell (Katherine’s husband), actor Denis O’Hare (True Blood and Milk) as Brad (Katherine’s main network assistant), actor Ike Barinholtz (Sisters and Blockers) as Daniel Tennant (a high profile / up and coming comedian entertainer), actress Amy Ryan (The Office and Gone Baby Gone) as Caroline Morton (Katherine’s network boss), actor Hugh Dancy (Ella Enchanted and King Arthur) as Charlie Fain, actor Reid Scott (Veep and My Boys) as Tom Campbell, actor John Early (Search Party and The Disaster Artist) as Reynolds, actor Max Casella (Jackie and Boardwalk Empire) as Burditt, and actor Paul Walter Hauser (Cobra Kai and Kingdom) as Mancuso. As I said, these characters make up the rest of the characters of Late Night, which are mostly there to play “support” to Katherine and Molly and are well-represented by the acting talents in their portrayals. So, I liked them all and help make the feature’s narrative work (be it for comedic relief, dramatic plot beats, or just simply adding context to the story).

FINAL THOUGHTS


They’re giving comedy a rewrite as Katherine Newbury fights to save her late-night talk show, while Molly Patel fights for her place in the writing room in the movie Late Night. Director Nisha Ganatra latest film examines (through a dramatic cinematic lens) the today’s current workplace world (the changing of times therein) as well as the compelling story of trying old school vs. new school. While the film does have a few drawbacks in its formulaic narrative progression and takes a bit of a safer road than a more ambitious one, the movie still finds enough humor and heart to come away with a strong impression, thanks to commentary message and to its cast (most notably its leads). Like I mentioned above, I liked this movie. It was different a fun and lighthearted movie to watch and enjoy (loved Thompson and Kaling on this project) and just has the right amount of topical examination to make for an enjoyable viewing experience. Thus, I would say that I would give Late Night a “recommended” rating as has enough gumption and cinematic guile to make for a wholesome viewing to many moviegoers out there. In the end, while it doesn’t redefine the classic dramedy formula, Late Night proves to be a sharp and buoyant take on the late-night talk show host variety that speaks to socially relatively as well as the age old saying of teaching an old dog new tricks….

4.1 Out of 5 (Recommended)

 

Released On: June 14th, 2019
Reviewed On: July 14th, 2019

Late Night  is 102 minutes long and is rated R for language throughout and some sexual references

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