Queens of comedy rule the night

Queens of comedy rule the night

Review: Late Night
Starring: Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, Amy Ryan, Max Casella, John Lithgow

The world of late night television has changed significantly over the last few decades. Those who can remember the reigns of Johnny Carson, David Letterman and Jay Leno know that the new faces of talk shows are not just found on television anymore. The likes of Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert have as much of a following online as they do on their respective networks and this is the ever-changing world that actress/writer Mindy Kaling (The Office) manages to tap into with her film, Late Night.

The celebrated talk show host in Kaling’s film is Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson) who has been the queen of comedy and late night for decades, but now finds herself on the downside of popularity. Despite the awards and acclaim, her show and her writers have become formulaic and boring, which cause her audience to turn to other shows for laughs. When she is threatened with losing her show to a younger, up and coming comedian, she becomes desperate and decides to hire the inexperienced Molly Patel (played by Kaling). There’s hopes that this young lady would be able to add some diversity and youth to her writing staff. Eventually, the comedic veteran begins to see the value that this Indian-American woman brings to her joke-writing team. 

With the changes brought on by the fresh talent and a new appreciation for her online audience, Katherine’s show begins to gain market share. Then the comedian’s past comes back to haunt her when emails leak of an affair that she had with one of her staff members. In horror, Katherine sees her business partner and husband, Walter (John Lithgow), who is suffering through the later stages of Parkinson’s Disease dragged into the public eye. This causes her team and the show to face new challenges and makes her future even less likely to last at the network.  In the current world of workplace politics and relationships, everyone involved must determine if the show and the comedian’s revered reputation can survive. 

This film provides a bold statement and perspective during this volatile time in Hollywood history. To have a script that confronts diversity, workplace relationships and the public scrutiny of promiscuity, it does feel like a story for just such a time as this. It makes sense that Kaling would use humour as the vehicle to address these issues and attempt to show both sides of this strained component of the entertainment industry. The majority of the film handles this with light-hearted flair without minimising the seriousness of each element of the story. 

Emma Thompson is perfect in her role as the matriarchal figure of comedy, even though she is not known as a comedic actress. She manages to provide both the vulnerability and dominating centrepiece of the screenplay with her masterful thespian abilities. Kaling holds her own and does manage to complement Thompson’s commanding lead character. They are convincing as work colleagues, adversaries and friends, but it is the British veteran that truly carries the film. 

The shortcomings of the film are exposed as they attempt to wrap up all of the various themes in the final act. The messiness of office politics is not something that is easily cleaned up which means that the concluding elements prove to be less than satisfactory. The realities of the unforgiving world of the modern day press and the public mean that the final act is completely unbelievable. Leaving the conclusion to be turned into a cringe-worthy and politically correct fairy tale. Late Night has some intriguing things to say, but the answers they provide to modern problems prove to be neither satisfying nor believable. 

Looking Deeper

“You only have to forgive once. To resent, you have to do it all day, every day.”

Where is your limit for forgiveness? One of the most poignant moments was the moment that Katherine must face Walter after the public exposure of her affair, which leads to a beautiful scene of forgiveness. 

It is in scenes like this that stories begin to show how far people are willing to push to the edges of forgiveness. Two things to consider in this discussion is the limit of forgiveness and why should we forgive at all. It can be said that resentment only hurts the one that holds onto it. The Bible has much to say on this topic, this might be a good place to start when considering some the concepts from this film. 

Russell Matthews works for City Bible Forum Sydney and is a film blogger 

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