REVIEW: Despite talented cast and crew, ‘Late Night’ stumbles

The movie might bear the title “Late Night,” but it’s only worth an afternoon matinee price.

Emma Thompson stars in the flick as Katherine Newbury, a host of a long-running network evening show that comes up right after your local news. Despite hosting the program since the 90s, though, Newbury’s style on TV has become less popular over time, to the point where ratings have been on the decline for about a decade.

Needing some new energy in the show, and more diversity to boot, the show-runners decide to make a hire in the writing department. Enter Molly (Mindy Kaling), a young woman who works in a Pennsylvania chemical plant, moonlighting as an amateur comic. Molly is hired, through a bit of luck and joins the writing team. However, her some of her ideas clash with the other writers, and Newbury herself.

“Late Night” is a total disappointment on a few levels. First and foremost, it’s surprising how a movie based on characters who work in comedy could be so miserable and unfunny. I get the movie also wants to show the grind of running an actual production with a deadline, but the mood almost seems too sour.

Leading into the next point, the movie has an issue in its approach to the whole situation. The film is too dramatic and seemingly miserable at times to be a lighthearted, feel-good flick. However, it also severely lacks any teeth in its satirizing late night shows. It’s actually surprising to see that the movie has an R-rating, considering how tame the whole picture is in terms of where it takes its humor.

The movie seems to think having an angry boss everyone is scared of makes for an interesting take on the workplace, but it’s just too exaggerated. It comes across more like “The Devil Wears Prada” at times.

Other topical approaches this film seems to poke fun at are Millennial culture, YouTube content creators and using Twitter. It comes across as such shallow observations that have been done before.

I never thought I’d revisit this movie, let alone compliment it, but back in 2010 there was a flick called “Morning Glory,” where a young producer had to resurrect a failing morning show. That movie honestly did this concept better. One of the reasons for that was Harrison Ford, who played a grizzled veteran news anchor forced onto a fluff morning show. He was convincing in a role where a character wanted to cover more serious subjects.

Courtesy Amazon Studios.

Here, Thompson is never convincing. She plays Newbury in such an angry way and the character is surprisingly written to have very little in terms of comedic lines. Plus, the movie also expects the audience to believe she’s never had to do interviews with people she didn’t like or do silly bits. Come on.

There’s also a point where she brings up the fact that she hasn’t really talked politics on her show. Really? In this age when Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers and Jimmy Kimmel all talk politics regularly,  not to mention Samantha Bee?

Meanwhile, while having a charming screen presence, Kaling plays a character written as too much of a polar opposite here. The character is simply too much of a do-gooder.

The fact is, there’s no gray area. The two main characters are too black and white, and it makes the two, and their subsequent working relationship, feel unrealistic.

The movie is also held down by a rather unnecessary subplot about an affair that takes place along the way. It didn’t do much but add some unnecessary drama.

“Late Night” isn’t a completely failed effort. There are some lines that land well for laughs, and some good messages the movie passes along. However, it remains a disappointing movie. 2.25 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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