Late Night: An HR-Appropriate Workplace Comedy
From the mind of Mindy Kaling comes Late Night, an HR-appropriate workplace comedy about a falling star’s fight to maintain relevance. While the film confidently takes on a variety of issues with charming gusto, it ultimately bites off a bit more than it can fully chew and is safe to a fault.
Legendary late-night talk show host Katherine Newbury’s (Emma Thompson) world is turned upside down when she hires her only female staff writer, Molly (Mindy Kaling). Originally intended to smooth over diversity concerns, her decision has unexpectedly hilarious consequences as the two women separated by culture and generation are united by their love of a biting punchline.
Not that it’s an inherently bad thing, but Late Night feels pretty familiar in just about every way. It’s essentially The Devil Wears Prada meets an extended and drama-heavy 30 Rock, and The Devil Wears Prada definitely wears it better. Late Night isn’t without its certain charms, but it’s ultimately very underwhelming. It’s overall messaging is undeniably important, and it definitely earns a few points for taking on weighty subject matter, but there were several points where it felt a bit like an insincere cash grab around some of today’s hot button issues.
This could possibly be because the heavy topics sit somewhat on Late Night’s periphery. While the film’s catalyst is for the withered late-night personality Katherine Newbury (a British riff on Miranda Priestly) to diversify her all-male writing staff by hiring a woman, Late Night is not really about creating a diverse and gender-equal workforce — though it certainly builds that into its conclusion. At its core, Late Night is the story of a bitter, bristly, self-absorbed has-been who is desperately clawing to stay on top, which wouldn’t be so terrible if the character weren’t so insufferable and impossible to root for.
Katherine Newbury, though nicely portrayed by Emma Thompson, is not a likable character, and we’re never really given any reason to care about her. She’s terrible to just about anyone she meets and is the kind of boss who hasn’t even introduced herself to her staff. She’s even given a sick and dying husband (played wonderfully by John Lithgow), who she cheats on — one of the film’s many bloated unnecessaries. Kaling sets up a lot for Newburty to overcome; however, her redemption never feels deserved or earned.
Kaling is radiantly affable as Molly, but her story of pursuing her dream a writer on Kathrine’s show often feels at war with Katherine’s fight for relevance and redemption. One of the issues with Molly’s story is how she gets the job. She’s an efficiency expert from a chemical plant in Pennsylvania with no background in writing or TV, yet she somehow gets the job just because she’s Indian-American and a woman — as if there’s weren’t any other “diversity hires” in New York with experience. Of course, there’s also a shoehorned romantic sub-plot that is made unnecessarily complicated.
One of the more bizarre aspects of the film is how safe and sterile it is for an R-rated comedy. Its “edgiest” was its language, which felt awkwardly used and, much the frills on its narrative, unnecessary. Its wholesome and curse-word free beginnings make its increasingly frequently evolution toward profanity misplaced and left field. The language is really only used to falsely heighten someone’s opinion or emotional state (e.g. “that’s not how it fucking works!”), which is an acting crutch that became irritating.
There were a lot times that the character turns and emotions felt forced, and as the story chugged along, it felt like it was being pulled and not happening organically. While its final image of a diverse workplace is the image we need, the road in which it takes to get there is bumpy and overstuffed.
Recommendation: Rewatch The Devil Wears Prada and wait for this to hit streaming platforms.
Rating: 2.5 firings outta 5.
What do you think? Did Late Night play it too safe? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!