Late Night looks at the modern phenomenon of late-night talk shows; from Johnny Carson to Jay Leno, with Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon two of today’s best known. Seth Meyers even makes an appearance here, seemingly uneasy at playing himself. What’s notable is that all of these examples are male; in setting out a story about a woman fighting to find her place in a touch NYC writers room, it seems strange that Mindy Kaling’s script should position a female tyrant at the top of the tree.
Played by Emma Thompson, Katherine Newberry is a fading star of the small screen, a Norma Desmond whose writers are terrified to admit that she’s not as funny as she used to be. Molly (Kaling) comes to NYC from a chemical plant, and is not attuned to the competitive atmosphere she encounters, or to the whims of her boss. But Newberry has issues, from an ill partner (John Lithgow) to a secret workplace romance, and Molly strikes up an unconventional alliance with her; Newberry provides the platform, while Molly brings the funny.
Expect for a film about comedy, there’s not much that’s funny about Late Night; a film about Tina Fey’s experience of the SNL writers room would be more direct. And Newberry would make more sense as a man than a woman; perhaps Kaling’s point is that women hold each other back, but side-lining issues of sexism and glass ceilings robs the film of agency. Like The Clapper, it seems bizarre that someone with such experience of show-business would write a story that seems tone-deaf to the realities of the work.
That said, late Night is a passable, appealing film with likeable performances and brisk direction by Nisha Gantata. Better films about women in the workplace will follow; Late Night makes a decent fist, but fails to pack enough punch to be more than disposable.