Emma Thompson can do no wrong. Nothing. Not a thing. Even if it’s heading to America to help Arnold Schwarzenegger deliver a fictitious baby in 1994’s Junior, she is pretty much magnificent in anything she does and it will come as no surprise that she, once more, is on the same level for Late Night, a biting comedy about sexism, racism, empowerment and late night chat show shenanigans that make you think above all else: why isn’t Emma Thompson a chat show host yet? Hopefully, one day, such a question will be answered but for now, this is a close as we get.
Written by The Office USA’s Mindy Kaling, the film sees Thompson stars as Katherine Newbury, the shining light of late night television and the only female to not only front her own show but to do it for over two decades in a sea of men who take front and centre stage when it comes to ratings and celebrity status. Her show is stagnant, reliant on a group of male writers to produce the goods but where they should be snapping at the cultural (sex, women, equality), they are more than happy peddling crass humour and crazy games with celebrities, and such she is fighting to save her job. Katherine knows the studio wants to replace her, so hires a woman (Kaling) with no experience but who may well be the spark to light the fire to shake the show into the 21st-century world.
For all Late Night‘s great and noble intentions, the comedy side of the film rarely gets going, with many jokes landing on deaf ears. When it’s funny it’s a hoot and a half but so sporadic are the big chuckles that it barely passes the “six laughs” test, with only Max Casella and John Early standing out from the crowded writers’ room, with John Lithgow providing some true class (doesn’t he always?)
That said, while Kaling’s comedy may not land, not indeed some of the romantic elements (a potential fling with Hugh Dancy‘s alpha-male, for example) fail to rise above clichè, the film does have a very endearing honesty about it and the working environment today, particularly those of the predominantly male/white variety, shining a much-needed light of the global problem of diversity and gender bias, but it only really feels like a nibble rather than the big bite it’s aiming for.
While it deserves much credit for the way it tackles those prevalent subjects that should be front and centre of all media, and indeed politics in 2019, the film enconsing it is a big disappointment, with only a few memorable moments to write home about most of which come from Thompson, who is magnificent throughout. But we mentioned that, didn’t we?
Scott J.Davis | ★★ 1/2
Comedy, Drama | USA, 2019 | 15 | 7th June 2019 (UK) | Entertainment One UK | Dir.Nisha Ganatra | Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, John Lithgow, Hugh Dancy, Denis O’Hare