In my opinion, the two words ‘late’ and ‘night’ should never go together. Not unless they proceed the five words ‘I’, ‘am’, ‘not’, ‘having’ and ‘a’. For my job, I wake up at 4AM every day, and the mere thought of a bedtime past 8:45PM is enough to make my head spin 360 degrees and projectile vomit.
So, going into a screening of Mindy Kaling’s Late Night – ironically, a screening which didn’t finish until gone 8PM – filled me with nothing but dread. I’d never gripped my Tango Ice Blast tighter. (It was either my tiredness kicking in, or my body naturally telling me that that choice of beverage wasn’t suitable for a Type 1 diabetic.) I was wrong to fear Late Night; to say I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of this movie would be a biblical understatement of epic proportions.
Emma Thompson leads as an iconic talk-show host, Katherine Newbury, who is feared by her staff and writers, and is quickly losing viewers. In a desperate plea to regain audience figures, Katherine hires her only female writer, Molly (Mindy Kaling). For the first act, I found it nigh on impossible not to compare – and, in turn, disfavour – Emma’s Katherine to Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada. Both strutted around the workplace snarking at their employees as they frantically launched coffees into her hands; both boasted a range of sick trouser-suits with razor-sharp shoulder pads; both donned a short, white hair do. Heck, Emma may as well have kicked off because one of her script writers suggested florals. For spring.
The only issue is that we weren’t really supposed to care for Meryl’s Miranda Priestly. She was at the top of her game. But you needed to sympathise for Emma’s talk show host, who was quickly losing her show, and was soon to become a washed-up has-been. It was so hard to do when she was such a snarky bitch. (Lord, forgive me for even saying something so scathing about your next-in-line, Emma Thompson.) Gradually, throughout the movie, Katherine Newbury becomes more humour and we see her flaws; that’s when she becomes a likeable character and you finally learn to root for her. Until then, I just thought “Honestly, I’d rather watch James Corden’s talk show, over Katherine’s.”
And – believe me – that’s saying something.
Of course, you couldn’t watch this movie without instantly falling for Emma Thompson (again). Heck, she could play the little devil on Hitler’s shoulder, egging him on to commit horrible acts, and I’d still root for her. The Saving Mr. Banks star is so effortlessly perfect in this role. As I said, I loathed her at first, but her honest portrayal somehow made her into a sympathetic, lonely character towards the end. One scene in particular – where Katherine returns to stand-up comedy – is incredible. Katherine bombs as she tries to recite jokes she believes her audience will like, and as she paces the stage and mutters to herself, there’s something so genuine about her performance. Of course, I know too well exactly how that felt. Who knew? A bloke with a blog filled with willy and poop jokes would have been a failed comedian?!
I didn’t, however, expect John Lithgow to move me how he did. John plays Walter Newbury; Katherine’s husband, who is slowly dying from Parkinson’s disease, and while he isn’t in the film as much as his female co-stars, when he is, he stands out. I was brought to tears during one of John’s final scenes where he learns to forgive Katherine after she betrays him. (Again, Emma Thompson could literally boot my puppy out of a plane window, and I’d forgive her, so I can’t hold it against John, can I?)
Hats off to Mindy, too, for writing such a funny story. I’ll admit; I wasn’t sold from the trailers. I had already drafted a scathing opening line for this review of “Late Night? More like ‘Shit Night’, am I right?!” (Grab the aloe vera, ’cause you just got burned.) But I was so pleasantly surprised by how genuinely joyous and comical it was. The first few scenes were groan-worthy; at one point, as she stands in awe and recites poetry, Mindy’s character is hit in the face with a trash bag. But once you get past that very basic excerpt from Comedy for Dummies, Late Night becomes actually a lot wittier, and almost reminiscent of the likes of Veep, at points. There is a contrast of characters within the writer’s room ensuring that there’s something (or someone) for everyone, throughout.
This is exactly how an female-led comedy should be made. It doesn’t need to be a remake of a male-led movie to tackle gender difference. Late Night did it perfectly as Kaling drew from her past experiences within the film and television industry. And while it was a frank and much-needed look at some serious topics, it also just happened to be delightful and pretty damn funny. (Which, ironically, are all antonyms for James Corden.)