My initial impression of “Late Night” was that it looked like a much more humorous version of “The Devil Wears Prada.”
Makes sense, right? The bright-eyed writer finds herself in the path of an incredibly glamorous, wildly successful and notoriously harsh boss. She overcomes professional adversity and does something amazing.
I was sold from the get-go. Honestly, after “The Big Sick,” I feel confident placing my trust in Amazon Studios.
So, here’s my review of “Late Night!”
“Late Night” stars Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling, who are backed by an impressive supporting cast including John Lithgow, Hugh Dancy and Reid Scott. Nisha Ganatra brings her extensive background directing quality comedy TV to the project and, paired with Mindy Kaling’s writing, it’s rock solid.
The film centers on the stories of Molly (Kaling), a chemical plant worker turned unexpected comedy writer and “token hire,” and her boss Katherine Newbury (Thompson), who expects that after years of decline her beloved late night talk show will be taken away from her.
I’ll say this for “Late Night:” The film has a lot to say. More importantly, it’s saying it very well.
No topic is off-limits in “Late Night,” and that is the absolute best thing about the film. “Late Night” tackles issues of race and diversity and the workplace, what it means to be a “token hire,” and the ways that the problem can be turned into empowerment. It addresses mental health as it relates to success and speaks very plainly on the female professional experience at all stages — the good and the bad.
All of this through an unapologetically feminist lens.
Of course, the praise I heap on “Late Night” is not based out of mere willingness to discuss these issues. Everybody is talking about it. But, it’s the ability to discuss these topics well.
It’s not just about talking about hard issues; it’s really examining them and giving them a real-world scope and consideration that your garden variety grandstanding just doesn’t. It feels like a real discussion. It’s not tied up and neat. Shit gets gritty.
Beyond being incredibly competent in its nuance, “Late Night” is just a damn funny film.
This may be my own bias shining through, but Emma Thompson is in a class all her own here, and the rest of her (incredibly talented) cast pales in comparison to the performance she’s giving. And, honestly, given her role as a magnetic talk show host and a professional hardass reminiscent of the iconic Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep), maybe it’s for the best that she shines so much brighter.
Lithgow as Walter Lovell gives a very sweet and subtle performance that feels like a nice escape from the fast-paced back and forth of the rest of the film. His scenes carry some of the real heart and sincerity of “Late Night.”
“Late Night” isn’t without its flaws and, unfortunately, these flaws reflect badly on the film’s other performances. The romances for Molly are half-assed and predictable and, if I’m being perfectly square, I would have preferred that the film focus on Molly’s own workplace struggle without making it about dating.
Really that’s the fatal flaw of the entire film. There’s a certain amount of predictability that takes some of the shine off of the really great things that “Late Night” is doing. That being said, the whole film is so enjoyable and does what it does so well that you can’t help but enjoy it.
Additionally, for all of the relevant commentary, there were threads in “Late Night” that didn’t reach a point of completion. In fact, there were some areas where it just dropped the ball.
In true “The Devil Wears Prada” fashion, the film teases the idea of the unrelenting boss but with a twist… at multiple intervals during the film’s opening moments, it is relayed that Katherine does not like other women.
This idea of female professional competition and resentment is touched on and toyed with but it’s never really explored.
What is the root of Katherine’s rivalry with the head of the network, and how does it resolve the way it does? There’s a history that you know is there, but we are never shown. How is it that Katherine can’t work with women, but instantly she gains some respect for Molly?
This conflict, which fits so well with the other messages of the film, is glossed over and it’s disappointing in a film that is otherwise so bold.
However, none of this is enough to take away from the full picture.
My verdict? “Late Night” is just a ton of fun. It’s damn enjoyable. It lands exactly how it’s supposed to, and those moments of real discussion and introspection are some of the most competent to come out in recent years.
I highly recommend it.
“Late Night” comes to select theaters on June 7 and opens everywhere June 14!
Featured photo credit: Emily Aragones,/Amazon Studios
Caitlin is a lean, mean writing machine based in Austin, TX. Her love of film began when she was shown “Rosemary’s Baby” way too early in life. Bylines include The Financial Diet and Film Inquiry. Caitlin is a member of the Online Association of Female Film Critics and the Women Film Critics Circle.