Late Night is a perfectly cute, charming movie that tries to do too much and doesn’t end up executing anything particularly well.
The main story follows Mindy Kaling’s character, a quality control specialist at a chemical factory, after she lands the job of her dreams as a comedic writer for late night host Emma Thompson.
The only problem? Thompson is old news- the show’s ratings have been in steady decline for the past decade, and the network is planning to change hosts.
Most of the action revolves around the hostile work environment Thompson’s character creates while she tries to save her show and Kaling’s character desperately trying to prove herself worthy of having a seat (literally!) at a table full of white, male, college-educated comedians. Along the way, we also have a sub-plot about Kaling’s love life, some mediocre stand-up, infidelity, and a backstory involving family illness.
None of it quite lands.
Thompson’s character is often unrealistically rude to her staff, and the movie does very little to redeem or excuse her behavior. It’s hard to root for her success, and Kaling’s success, when the character is so unlikeable. The movie also tries to make points about sexism, ageism, and racism in comedy and in Hollywood, but none of them hit in a way that doesn’t feel overtly ham-fisted.
However, Late Night does have some shining moments. Kaling and Thompson both deliver stellar performances and have some great jokes.
The movie does its best work when Kaling is coming up with new comedic ‘bits’ for the late night show. The standout sketch involves a “White Savior” bit where Thompson hails a cab for two African-American men. Because they have difficulty getting drivers to stop for them, Thompson decides to do them a service and hail a cab for them! Then, she forces them into the cab even when they don’t need it (because that’s what white saviors do!). It was cheeky and hilarious and biting – perfect comedic commentary on racism in America.
All in all, the movie is perfectly enjoyable for a late-night stream, but I wouldn’t go see it in theaters.
With Amazon Studios distributing the film, this should have been a direct release to Prime viewers, and I think it was a serious error going for a theater release. The movie feels like a made-for-tv piece, like Netflix’s series of original romcoms, and both belong better on the small screen.