Director: Nisha Ganatra
Released: 7 June
Halfway through Late Night, Emma Thompson’s over-the-hill talk show host does an awful impromptu stand-up routine. It was only when the film cut to audience members rolling their eyes and looking embarrassed that I realized this was supposed to be terrible as opposed to the punishingly unfunny comedy I’d been watching for the last hour.
Written by and starring Mindy Kaling, Late Night follows Katherine Newbury (Thompson), an ageing talk show host who has completed her descent into hackdom. After a staff member complains about the all white, all male writer’s room, Katherine employs an Indian-American comedian called Molly (Kaling) as a diversity hire. With the show facing cancellation, it’s up to Molly to light a fire under Katherine’s arse and make her relevant once more.
Late Night has an intriguing premise that is wasted almost immediately. The script talks the talk by pointing out the white privilege of Katherine and her Harvard educated staff, but it’s far too cowardly to explore that privilege in any meaningful way. It’s a comedy about race and gender that strives to be as inoffensive and toothless as possible.
One particularly cringe inducing bit on the talk show called ‘White Savior’ involves Katherine wandering around the city, helping people of colour with minor tasks. It’s framed as a minor triumph in Katherine’s journey to rehabilitate her image, instead of the smug, performative ‘wokeness’ that makes late-night talk shows so excruciating to watch. I may have groaned aloud.
From a technical standpoint, Late Night is just as bad (if nothing else the film is consistent). The direction is limited to pointing the camera at the actors and making them say their lines, the editing lacks any kind of rhythm to sell the jokes, and Matthew Clark’s soulless cinematography seems inspired by teen soap operas like Gossip Girl.
The film’s saving grace is Emma Thompson, having an absolute ball playing a caustic bitch, but it’s not enough. A ten hour Jay Leno marathon almost seem preferable. Almost.