Emma Thompson’s character in “Late Night,” Katherine Newbury, has held sway over the TV landscape for ages.
Think Johnny Carson, Jay Leno or David Letterman. She’s still a victim, though, despite owning 43 Emmys.
“It’s not fair, but it never is for woman,” Katherine says at one point.
The same holds true for the film’s scrappy heroine. Mindy Kaling plays Molly, a wanna be comedy writer who lands a gig penning bits for Katherine’s show. Molly lacks experience and doesn’t appear remotely funny. She gets the gig anyway based solely on her gender.
She, too, is victim.
So goes “Late Night,” an under-cooked satire of the talk show landscape. It’s full of clapter, the real late night’s toxic trend, but the story at its core is equally wan … and woke.
Katherine’s reign as the queen of late night comedy is nearing its end. The ratings are down, and so is her cultural buzz. She’s about to be replaced by an “It” comic (Ike Barinholtz) who traffics in very crude bits.
We’re told he’s xenophobic, but that’s just assumed since he’s white and male, amirite?
She won’t go out without a fight, though.
She tells her underlings to hire a female writer to spice up her all-male staff. Along comes Molly, who lands the gig despite less than zero qualifications.
Can Molly compete in the man’s world of late night TV – on a show featuring a female superstar? Can her tepid political jokes earn Katherine’s respect? Will a movie that thinks late night writers avoid political jokes get laughed out of theaters?
Yes, Katherine’s writers wince when Molly pens a lazy attack on Republicans. Ooooh, that’s too political, they shriek in near-unison.
Really? In a movie set in 2019?
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Nearly everyone in this Identity Politics potpourri is a victim. That’s true when they’re rising to the top or sinking due to their own, awful choices. It’s not as woke as the recent comedy “Booksmart.”
What could be?
That film, for all its social justice posturing, stays true to its rowdy teen formula. Then again, who knows what movie “Late Night” is?
It’s not very funny despite being set in the world of late night comedy. There’s precious little romance here — one romantic subplot is started, stalled and revisited in such an absurd way you know something got snipped in the editing bay that would flesh things out.
Thompson is the main reason to see “Late Night.” She’s a fully-formed character, an egomaniac raging against her artistic decline. We still don’t get a sense of why she’s a legend in the first place.
Where’s the rip-roaring flashback of her destroying a comedy club crowd? Maybe in the forthcoming Blu-ray deleted scenes?
Katherine’s all white, male writing team hates Molly at first sight. Why? Well, because they’re men, that’s why. And she’s a person of color, too. She soon gives them a reason to hate her, though. She berates their work without any sense of how hard the gig truly is.
Maybe that should have come first?
Molly is sweet and aspirational, both qualities Kaling naturally exudes. But is she funny? Darned if we know. The screenplay sketches out some of her material, from monologue jokes to stand up shtick. The former is represented by a key bit that’s pro choice and hopelessly stale.
Is that her calling card? If so, yawn in progress.
Molly’s greatest strength here is victimhood. She attacks her critics and savages the “white patriarchy.” She even pens a bit where Katherine whines about being too old and white. Now, that’s just what a failing late night show host needs!
She even complains about her Big Apple pad which looks cleaner and larger than anyone would rightly expect at her income bracket.
What defines Molly? “I hate injustice.” That knee isn’t gonna slap itself, you know.
FAST FACT: Mindy Kaling not only helped write the NBC smash “The Office,” she later directed several episodes of the long-running show.
Some funny bits still emerge, including how Katherine labels her writers by numbers rather than get to know them as people. It’s part of her ball-busting persona, and it’s the most honest part of the movie. Equally strong is John Lithgow, playing Katherine’s long-suffering husband. He has a secret that powers a key part of the film, but he’s mostly here to play the story’s moral center.
For a while “Late Night” seems content to “Colbert-ize” Katherine’s shtick, including a “White Savior” routine ripped from the Woke Playbook. The film abandons that shift soon enough. Phew. Were they really gonna tell us that’s what we need now … more .. than… ever in late night?
How to impress your boss, brought to you by Molly.#LateNightMovie is now playing in NY and LA, everywhere Friday. https://t.co/1AMBtKSYZF pic.twitter.com/cISSkl6UDb
— Late Night Movie (@LateNightMovie) June 12, 2019
In a way, “Late Night” does nail the current talk show atmosphere. The jokes are tepid and left-leaning, and the hosts take themselves way too seriously. The culture doesn’t hang on any one late night show host, even though the media insists it’s true.
“Late Night” delivers lectures over laughs, just like Colbert and co. do each weeknight.
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None of this is to say Hollywood lacks sexist behavior. Just the opposite. Casting couches are real. So are industry fiends like Harvey Weinstein. The #MeToo movement didn’t erase that or the sexist double standards in play. It’s still dispiriting to hear Katherine and Molly whine about their lot in life given how far they’ve advanced.
Then again, Molly represents the stereotypical Millennial. She walks with an inflated sense of entitlement, berates her boss as if they were equals and blames her woes on the patriarchy.
Kaling not only stars in “Late Night” but penned the script, too. She only has herself to blame for its flaws.
HiT or Miss: “Late Night” offers some mild chuckles, a slipshod plot and a gaggle of woke lessons masquerading as good humor.