I still enjoy the television genre of late-night talk shows, even the programs I don’t watch, because I will check in on the ones that annoy me to see if they have improved or have any new good parts, or if they are still just doing things that are annoying, so I can congratulate myself on my expert knowledge of teevee and for knowing how good a lot of late-night shows used to be. Some late-night shows are good, the format is not dead, and this movie Late Night, among other things, is for people who enjoy late-night television talk shows, and are maybe interested in a mild peek behind the curtain.
Late Night stars and was written by Mindy Kaling, who used to do a situation comedy I enjoyed called The Mindy Project, and it was funny. It also had parts that were emotional and about human relationships, and I didn’t like those parts so much, but there was enough of the funny stuff that made up for the sappy parts.
Ms. Kaling’s character, Molly Patel, is a rookie comedy writer who is plucky and resourceful and gets inside the all-white, all-male writers room of a long-running late-night show hosted by Emma Thompson’s character Katherine Newbury, a veteran entertainer who’s been getting it done for 20-plus years and has the Emmy Awards and the complacency and the self-loathing to prove it.
When I saw the poster for this movie I was wondering WHICH TALK SHOW IS THIS SUPPOSED TO BE, and Emma Thompson seems to be playing a combination of David Letterman in his final 10 (or 15?) years of burned-out going-through-the-motions assholeishness and getting out of the game in time to avoid #metoo, mixed with Craig Ferguson’s UK accent and willingness to book guests who wrote books.
The real fun is in the writers room, which has already been thoroughly skewered by Tina Fey on NBC’s 30 Rock, and Garry Shandling’s The Larry Sanders Show on HBO, but it’s always entertaining to see desperate writers being mean to each other. Also the show poops on Jimmy Fallon’s beer-pong pandering, good times.
Beyond the TV talk show stuff, this flick is easy to recommend to people who enjoy Mindy Kaling and Emma Thompson (plus her character’s wardrobe and shoe game), and it’s a pretty deft split of the movie between the two, with solid support from John Lithgow as Katherine’s husband, Hugh Dancy as a super-handsome guy (according to the characters in the movie, I dunno), and Ike Barinholtz (also from The Mindy Project) as a complete toolbag Dane Cook douchemedian gunning for his own show. Reid Scott from HBO’s Veep is a pleasant surprise, as he is allowed to play a well-rounded character and not just another one-dimensional finger-puppet for a one-note dialogue writer.
There’s some of the emotional and human relationships stuff, but again, the laughs and the talk-show dirt make it go down easy. The thinnest part of this movie is the talk-show proper, but you only have to watch it once, not five nights a week.