Review: 'Late Night' not ready for prime time
Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling star in muddled film set in late night world of network TV
A complacent TV host's world is shaken up with a new arrival on her writing staff in "Late Night," a film which wrestles with gender and racial politics but never settles on a clear point of view.
"Late Night's" lack of commitment goes all the way to the top: it can't decide if it's the story of Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson), the long-running host of a late night network talk show, or Molly Patel (Mindy Kaling, who also wrote the script), the chemical plant worker who lands her dream job as a writer on Newbury's show.
When Patel arrives — she lands an interview through an essay-writing contest for the network's parent company — it's at a time when Newbury, a stuck-in-the-past TV veteran who refuses to step into the now, is in such desperate need of a female writer that anyone with two X chromosomes will do. So Patel is hired, as if posh TV writing gigs are just handed out like flyers on a street corner.
Patel is the lone non-white, non-male on a staff of writers Newbury has never even met; when Newbury begrudgingly enters the writing room, she refers to her staffers by number, and is shocked to learn of the death of a co-worker seven years prior.
"Late Night" becomes a sort of "The Devil Wears Prada" set in the world of late night TV, and while Thompson is remarkable as the barking boss, the scattered script never roots itself in a convincing reality. It's more interesting as a snapshot of an aging icon's struggling to adapt to a changing world, less so as a strung-together set of woke themes. There's a great movie in here somewhere, but "Late Night" needs another pass through the writer's room before going to air.
Rated R: for language throughout and some sexual references
Running time: 102 minutes