Cinema review: Late Night is a chatty view behind the scenes of TV

by Shane Dillon
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Cinemagoers could be forgiven for feeling that they’re under siege at the moment – big budget blockbusters and particularly miserable June weather alike are pummeling people.

So, for those looking to duck away from the bigger films and lousy Summer, pop in to the chat show experience that is Late Night (Cert 15A, 102 mins).

It’s a low-budget, high-aiming vehicle for Emma Thompson, picking over the fertile ground that is the male-dominated chatshow circuit with some snippy commentary on this particular boys’ club.

Katherine Newbury (Thompson) is an Emmy Award-winning late night chat show host – but she’s also facing oblivion, with a stale format, plummeting ratings and all an-male writing team, none of which is endearing her to her network.

She needs to shake things up and turn things around – fast – before her long-running show gets axed at the end of the season.

Enter, ‘diversity hire’ Molly (Mindy Kaling), a South-Asian American writer who faces suspicious male colleagues, a potential boss from hell, and the daunting challenge of helping to turn Newbury’s show around before it goes to the great commercial break in the sky.

Along the way, there are a range of interesting themes to dip into here, none of which get explored too much or settled upon for very long, but at least pop up enough to trigger a conversation.

At its heart, however, the film stays focused on the catty, snappy, often chaotic production background that lurks behind the smoothest of smooth late night chat show hosts, and the barely contained chaos which can drive their shows.

We’ve seen this type of content before. Recent TV series like 30 Rock have provided rich seams of comedy gold for behind-the-scenes catfighting, while the still peerless 90s cult show, The Larry David Show, mercilessly mocked and dissected chat shows and their hosts.

That’s not quite what Late Night is doing, however, as it keeps a focus on two very different women facing two very different challenges.

Molly proves to be a likable and very capable character. A lesser film might have turned her into a scheming ingenue plotting to depose the boss, but Kaling makes Molly sympathetic and honest enough in her aspirations.

Meanwhile, as the boss, Newbury is often fairly monstrous, but she’s not irredeemable – she’s a frienemy to be wary around, but sometimes a sympathetic one because of the pressures she faces, and her own life choices.

A solid supporting cast (including an ever reliable John Lithgow as Newbury’s sickly husband), and a number of high-profile names ‘as themselves’ rounds the cast out nicely.

The overall result is a film that won’t exactly wow like some of the blockbusters, but is a decent vehicle for Thompson, highlights gender equality issues, and takes some wryly amusing jabs at the behind-the-scenes chaos of TV production.

And, hey now, isn’t that worth popping in to see?

  • Verdict: 7/10

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