“Late Night” Movie Review

Okay, I’m not saying I’m anywhere near qualified enough to write jokes or monologues for a talk show host. BUT, if Stephen Colbert or Seth Meyers ever offered me the opportunity to do so… I probably wouldn’t say no. This romantic-comedy premiered out of competition at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival to rave reviews. It was later picked up by Amazon Studios for a record of $13 million, the largest single purchase for U.S.-only distribution for any film at the festival. It has managed to gross over 4 times its $4 million budget at the box office so far, and can likely increase that thanks to strong word of mouth. In fact, I would dare say that this film has the potential to become one of Amazon’s most profitable movies, especially considering the fact they spent a large sum of money on advertisements alone. Directed by Nisha Ganatra, the screenplay by one of the lead actresses appeared on the 2016 Black List, comprising the best-unproduced screenplays in Hollywood. The soon-to-be-defunct label Fox 2000 originally picked it up with Bridesmaids and A Simple Favor helmer Paul Feig onboard to direct it. Scheduling conflicts forced Feig to drop out and Ganatra, a veteran of various T.V. episodes like The Mindy Project and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, stepped in. Emma Thompson stars as Katherine Newbury, host of her very own long-running late-night talk show and the first woman to ever have one. In the midst of declining ratings and accusations of a lack of diversity behind the scenes, she is told that this year will be her last by network executives. Desperate to save the show, she sets out to hire a woman onto her all-male, all-white writing staff and eventually comes into contact with Molly Patel, played by Mindy Kaling. Although Molly works in a chemical plant, it becomes clear that she and Katherine need each other more than they might be willing to admit. The weird thing about a movie like this is that, had it been made in the early to mid-2000’s, it would have been released by a major studio and made an absolute killing in its opening weekend alone. And nowadays, it practically has to premiere at Sundance or SXSW just to get any mainstream attention. That’s not to say that the rom-com genre is out of style but simply illustrating how much the industry has shifted in over a decade. The prospect of seeing Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling on-screen together was extremely exciting for me. I’ve been a fan of Kaling and her writing since The Office and Thompson is obviously a highly respected actress; seeing the two of them in a rom-com seemed almost too good to be true. And it turns out to be a match made in heaven because Late Night is so sweet and funny, it could have only been made with these two. Watching this movie, I couldn’t help but think of the 2010 comedy Morning Glory with Rachel McAdams and Harrison Ford. The story of a young woman trying to break it into a television show run by and starring predominantly older men is very similar. But here, Late Night updates that thread for a more modern, biting look at misogyny in the entertainment industry. Throughout the film, we see the two main women and their obvious talents constantly doubted and tossed aside, even though they’re clearly intelligent. Yes, there are some parts that feel a bit like rom-com wish fulfillment, but that’s thankfully not the point of the film. I’ve been waiting for some time for a film that showcases Mindy Kaling’s talents behind and in front of the camera, and this movie is the perfect opportunity for that. She’s so hilarious and thoughtful as Molly and the fact that she wrote the screenplay makes all of her dialogue sound incredibly natural. She’s eager to prove herself in the workplace, telling a male colleague, “Just because I was lucky enough to get this job doesn’t mean I’m stupid enough to lose it.” And Dame Emma Thompson is absolutely incredible in her scene-stealing turn as Katherine Newbury, who is deeply insecure about her own talents and the advice of others. I’m not used to seeing her in such an overtly comedic role and she totally relishes it, giving off fantastic comedic timing and chemistry with Kaling. Her reluctance to admit the failures of her show feel extremely real, and I’m fully supporting any talking of an Oscar nomination for her come next January. Reid Scott, Hugh Dancy, and Paul Walter Hauser are also memorable as some of the members of the show’s writing staff. Their inherent obliviousness to the weight Molly’s opportunity provides some big laughs, and it’s quite clear that their own ideas are stale. Amy Ryan, John Lithgow, Ike Barinholtz, Denis O’Hare, and an unexpected cameo from Seth Meyers round out the rest of the supporting cast. Most of them have a moment or two to deliver some funny lines and help develop the story more. And while it may not be the most stylistically distinct comedy of the year, the technical aspects of Late Night still deserve a mention. The cinematography by Matthew Clark is sometimes inspired but mostly just fine, opting for more static placements in the corner of a room than fancy movement. It can get pretty clever with its depiction of a claustrophobic work environment by making the camera get close to the characters and show their cluttered workspace. This goes well with the editing job by Eleanor Infante, who always knows how to cut and pause for certain jokes. There are a handful of times when the camera cuts from one thing to another to highlight the irony of a certain situation. Other times, it remains focused on a person’s face or actions to drag out the silliness of whatever they’re saying or thinking. One of the best examples is when it cuts to Molly’s impromptu comedy at a chemical planet when being interviewed for the job. With palpable chemistry and relevant social commentary in between the gut-busting laughs, Late Night combines two unapologetically funny leads for a hilarious if predictable romp. Nisha Ganatra and Mindy Kaling both show so much promise for careers behind the camera because of the deep care for their characters. And of course, Emma Thompson gives the rare comedy performance that’s indeed Oscar-worthy and plays Katherine like the part was written specifically for her. I could see this becoming a modern classic in the rom-com genre, if everyone is willing to give it a chance either in theaters now or later on Amazon Prime.

Image result for late night movie poster

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