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

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic
Reid Scott and Mindy Kaling in "Late Night."

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.


'Late Night'


Rated R: for language throughout and some sexual references

Running time: 102 minutes