Movie Review: 'Late Night' With Emma Thompson And Mindy Kaling

Jun 7, 2019
Originally published on June 8, 2019 2:28 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The comedy "Late Night" stars Emma Thompson as a fading TV host and Mindy Kaling as a writer hired to make her more hip. The film was popular enough with audiences at this year's Sundance Film Festival to start a studio bidding war. Our critic Bob Mondello says it is easy to see why.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: We first see Katherine Newbury standing backstage, preparing to accept the latest of many honors.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LATE NIGHT")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) She was the first female late night talk show host on a major network, winning 43 Emmy Awards.

MONDELLO: So Katherine's not expecting to have this conversation with a new network head the next day.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LATE NIGHT")

AMY RYAN: (As Caroline Morton) I came to tell you this year is your last.

EMMA THOMPSON: (As Katherine Newbury) What? You're canceling the show.

RYAN: (As Caroline Morton) No, I'm canceling you. Do you want to know who Jimmy Fallon had on last Tuesday when you had Doris Kearns Goodwin - Robert Downey Jr. They washed a sheepdog together - glorious.

THOMPSON: (As Katherine Newbury) I'm sorry, Caroline. Should I have played giant Connect 4 with her or perhaps sung a karaoke song on the back of a tandem bicycle? It's Doris Kearns Goodwin. She's a national treasure.

RYAN: (As Caroline Morton) Agreed. I only wish she'd been an Avenger instead of writing books about Abraham Lincoln.

THOMPSON: (As Katherine Newbury) She could be an Avenger if she tried.

MONDELLO: Warmth is not Katherine's strong suit, but she's not letting go without a fight. So she pops into the morning writers' meeting, looks at the white male faces around the table and realizes...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LATE NIGHT")

THOMPSON: (As Katherine Newbury) I don't know who any of them are.

REID SCOTT: (As Tom Campbell) I'm Tom. I write the monologue. I'm actually the youngest monologue writer in the history of the show.

THOMPSON: (As Katherine Newbury) Don't care.

SCOTT: (As Tom Campbell) No, OK.

THOMPSON: (As Katherine Newbury) Do you know what? I'm not going to remember any of this, so here's what we're going to do. You're one, two, three, four.

MAX CASELLA: (As Burditt) Hi, Katherine.

THOMPSON: (As Katherine Newbury) Oh, Burditt, thank God. How's your baby?

CASELLA: (As Burditt) She's 27.

MONDELLO: So out of touch. Enter Molly seeking a job as a TV writer, quoting Yates on her way into the building...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LATE NIGHT")

MINDY KALING: (As Molly Patel) I have spread my dreams under your feet. Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

MONDELLO: ...And getting beamed by a trash bag. Molly's been working in a chemical plant - not usually known as a breeding ground for comedy, but...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LATE NIGHT")

KALING: (As Molly Patel) I've seen every episode of this show. I've read every book written about it. I do a little stand-up.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Where?

MONDELLO: At the plant.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LATE NIGHT")

KALING: (As Molly Patel) If you have a problem, ask a chemist. She'll always have the solution.

(LAUGHTER)

KALING: (As Molly Patel) Which kills with people who know about chemistry.

MONDELLO: Still, Katherine wants a woman writer, so Molly gets the gig, and the audience gets a fish-out-of-water/workplace redemption comedy that's happy to joke about such topical topics as sexism in broadcasting, diversity hiring and how to navigate less-than-sensitive work environments.

Mindy Kaling, who plays Molly and also wrote the film's script, has worked in TV long enough to know quite a bit about those things. And though she's given Emma Thompson the best line, she's reserved a few plum situations for herself, including one save-the-day-in-front-of-reporters moment when Katherine barely knows who she is. A publicist has been trying to soften the host's chilly image, but the giving-numbers-as-names story has gotten out.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LATE NIGHT")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) How would you describe Molly?

THOMPSON: (As Katherine Newbury) Molly, Molly - Molly is...

KALING: (As Molly Patel) She said to me that despite our very different backgrounds, that I reminded her of a younger her.

THOMPSON: (As Katherine Newbury) Younger me.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) Isn't that wonderful?

KALING: (As Molly Patel) I mean, huge (laughter).

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) You know what? Everybody's going to want to get this. Let's get a picture of Katherine and her beautiful Indian protege.

THOMPSON: (As Katherine Newbury) Molly.

MONDELLO: One way to negotiate job security. Director Nisha Ganatra keeps things moving at a brisk clip. And if there are a few too many plot threads dangling and a fresh spin on #MeToo that is way too glibly resolved, it's hard to feel anything but vaguely affirmative about "Late Night." With those stars, I'd hoped to feel more than vaguely affirmative. But hey, it's "Late Night," not "Prime Time." I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FORWARD MOTION")

DAYA: (Singing) Don't let the negative ever get in your way. Don't let it mess with your life. Don't let it wreck up your day. Don't make the things they do get under your skin - got to push it... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.