Netflix UK film review: Late Night
Bianca Garner | On 28, Dec 2019
Director: Nisha Ganatra
Cast: Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, John Lithgow, Hugh Dancy, Reid Scott, Denis O’Hare
Watch Late Night online in the UK: Netflix UK / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
When Late Night was released in cinemas, the film failed to make an impact at the box office. It’s a shame that not more people caught this excellent and side-splitting comedy on the big screen. Whether it was down to poor marketing or bad timing, the film was written off as a flop. However, this should not put you off from seeing it, as Late Night happens to be one of 2019’s most sophisticated, wittiest and entertaining films. It is a film that is of its moment, tackling such hard-hitting subjects as diversity in the workplace, sexism and misogyny towards women (especially women of colour), as well as addressing issues concerning ageism and the shelf life of a female celebrity – plus there’s more than likely one joke that will make you chuckle.
The film follows late night host Katherine Newbury (played by the wonderfully dry and sarcastic Emma Thompson) who is struggling to remain relevant in the world of memes and viral videos. Katherine is your typical ice-cold British woman: she rarely dishes out compliments, and refuses to learn the names of her writers. The president of the network (Amy Ryan) wants to replace Katherine with a male comic (Ike Barinholtz) who could boost the ratings with his locker-room style routine. In need of some new material, Katherine instructs Brad (Denis O’Hare) to hire a woman. That woman just happens to be Molly Patel (played by the ever-charming and quirky Mindy Kaling), who ticks all the right boxes.
Molly is an interesting character. She has essentially won a competition to get where she is and she’s simply hired because she is a diversity pick. The other writers (who all happen to be male) resent her immediately, and lord it over Molly with a fake superiority. She constantly bashes heads with the likes of Tom (Reid Scott), who happens to write Katherine’s opening monologues. There may be a knight in shining armour in the form of Hugh Dancy’s Charlie, but should Molly trust him? As the narrative evolves, Molly is the one who brings some much needed change to this toxic workplace.
Late Night doesn’t get preachy: it just shows us that there’s plenty of room at the table. Many of its strengths lie in its screenplay, penned by Kaling. The film has its emotional moments, which never feel forced or out of place, and they’re cleverly woven into the film’s narrative. In one scene, Molly is found crying under her desk struggling to cope with the stress of being the “new girl” (in fact, the only girl) in the workplace. It’s a touching moment that feels incredibly relatable to so many women who have struggled to be accepted into male-dominated workplaces. The men in the film just come across as being out-of-touch, and still clinging onto their former glory days. They’re not exactly villainous monsters, they’re just part of this environment and, in a lot of ways, so is Katherine.
Emma Thompson’s performance as Katherine portrays her natural talent as a comedic actress. She really sinks her teeth into this role, delivering her quick snide remarks with glee. Her scenes with an underused John Lithgow (who plays Katherine’s husband) are tender and sweet, reflecting Katherine’s sensitive side. It’s a shame that there aren’t more of these intimate scenes between the two characters. This is a slight issue with Late Night as a whole; both Kaling and director Nisha Ganatra are trying to cram so much into this film that it becomes slightly too bloated and, as a result, the conclusion feels a little too nicely resolved. In a lot of ways, Late Night feels like it would have been better suited as a sitcom, so the characters could have been fully explored. The characters of Katherine and Molly are so complex and well-developed, but it’s clear that less attention has been given to developing the supporting cast.
Ultimately, Late Night is a feel-good film for those who don’t normally do “feel-good” films. More importantly, it’s a film that’s trying to say something significant about toxic workplace environments and the need for diversity. Late Night may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s very, very smart without sacrificing on humour or character development, proving that a good comedy doesn’t have to be made up of gross, crude jokes. It’s great to see Thompson and Kaling having so much fun on the big-screen together, and they make a wonderful pair. Let’s hope they are reunited again in the near future.
Late Night is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.