independent

Saturday 20 July 2019

Thompson in full flow in spiky comedy of modern manners

Film review: Late Night (15), 7/10

Dame Emma Thompson as Katherine Newbury in Late Night
Dame Emma Thompson as Katherine Newbury in Late Night

All's fair in love and the war for TV ratings in director Nisha Ganatra's spiky comedy of modern manners, which provides Dame Emma Thompson with a plum role as a veteran talk show host who has grown complacent and lost touch with her viewers.

It's a lip-smacking delight to see the two-time Oscar winner in full comic flow, tossing out polished one-liners or rejecting one male staff member's request for a pay rise following the birth of his second child because it represents 'the classic sexist argument for the advancement of men in the workplace'.

Scripted with a deft touch by co-star Mindy Kaling, Late Night takes aim at gender equality and diversity in the workplace and occasionally draws blood from well-placed barbs at the expense of the mainstream media's obsession with beauty and youth.

Some aspects of the writing are undernourished - one romantic subplot blossoms with almost no on-screen propagation and the emotional fallout of marital betrayal is too neatly contained.

However, chemistry between the lead actors fizzes and there is a delightful rapport between Thompson and John Lithgow as the host's scholarly husband, whose brilliant mind is being unravelled by Parkinson's disease.

For almost 30 years, Katherine Newbury (Thompson) has presided over an award-winning talk show that has tried to take the higher cultural ground.

Unfortunately, ratings have plummeted and network president Caroline Morton (Amy Ryan) takes the decision to replace Katherine with edgy stand-up comedian Daniel Tennant (Ike Barinholtz).

Faced with the sobering reality of relinquishing her crown at the end of the current season, Katherine vows to reverse the show's fortunes.

'There aren't any women on the staff because you hate women,' observes long-suffering producer Brad (Denis O'Hare) so Katherine orders him to hastily address the imbalance.

Molly Patel (Kaling), an efficiency expert at a chemical plant in Pennsylvania with no writing experience beyond her own stand-up material, is in the right place at the right time.

She joins an all-white male writers' room led by Tom Campbell (Reid Scott), who pens Katherine's opening monologue.

Fellow writers dismiss Molly as a token hire but colleague Charlie Fain (Hugh Dancy) is more open-minded.

'Just because I was lucky enough to get this job doesn't mean I'm stupid enough to lose it,' beams Molly, who encourages Katherine to mine personal experience to reconfigure the public's perception.

Late Night is a sparkling showcase for an ensemble cast led by the luminous Thompson and Kaling, which practises what it preaches by utilising talented women behind and in front of the camera, including editor Eleanor Infante and composer Lesley Barber.

Laughter and heartwarming sentiment are keenly balanced, tipping slightly in favour of the latter as the hard-fought battle to save Katherine's show and reputation reaches a predictably crowd-pleasing resolution.

Gorey Guardian

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