"Late Night" Review
Late Night is a workplace comedy featuring Mindy Kaling who wrote, co-produced and stars alongside Emma Thompson as a fading TV host known as Katherine Newberry.
I must admit that I wanted to like this and had moderately high expectations judging from the Rotten Tomatoes score. I appreciated the premise of the film set in an alternate universe where in the male-dominated late night comedy scene, a female comedian emerges and deconstructs the patriarchy. I am skeptical of forward-thinking films like this, because they can succumb to overt, on-the-nose humor. However, the rave reviews for this film after it premiered put those concerns to rest. Perhaps I should have trusted my initial instinct, because this movie was close to garbage.
I sympathize with the intent, and I even agree with the message. However, it took a heavy-handed approach to tackling its progressive themes, and it feels snobbish and imposing. Although it fancies itself as an insertion in the comedy genre, it knuckles under its own political messaging and becomes one of the most snide, humorless comedies I’ve ever seen.
Some of the most consequential story beats depend on a certain joke or bit being funny, but they all miss the mark and come to nothing. In fact, there is one stand-up comedy routine that starts off horribly, and suddenly there is a shift in audience response and everyone starts laughing hysterically. I never saw the poor quality of material in the beginning of the set elevate to a level that would trigger a collective positive response from an audience. I did not even crack a smile at the jokes let alone dissolve into laughter.
Also, one joke in particular in the first half of the movie is an important plot device that advances the narrative, and there is some shilly-shallying about whether it should be done on the show, because it is so "controversial." However, the joke is merely a variation of something that has been beaten to death by comedians and comedy writers all across the country, and it is both unoriginal and not funny.
The film continues to promote the idea that a person should be qualified to get hired on staff in the writers’ room and not just a white, college-educated male or a diversity hire. However, none of the employees in the movie had even a shred of competence or stroke of comedic genius, and they all seemed like they were hired on as a fluke. I had no idea why any of these guys were in comedy, and I probably would not even find them to be pleasant dinner guests.
None of the relationships in this movie felt believable or convincing, and there was no chemistry between any of the main characters. Sometimes the film would use two characters’ troubled relationship as a stepping stone in the narrative or as an important plot point. It always came off contrived, and the film never reaches a satisfying conclusion with any of them. Sometimes there are throwaway lines that stand substitute for good storytelling, and thusly there are scenes that attempt to pull at the heartstrings to no avail, because the moment wasn't earned.
The performances saved this movie from being a total disaster; although, the characterizations of them were not developed sufficiently to make them feel fleshed out with all of the attributes that comprise a human being. Emma Thompson, for example, plays an evil, estranged boss who has no idea who her own writers are and does not give a flying fig about any of them or their personal lives. However, near the end, she confesses something about herself and makes a choice with one of her employees that is supposed to salvage her character from being completely reprehensible and unlikeable, and it doesn't work or feel earned at all. Not only does she play a cliched character, but when they try to throw a scandal into the mix, the film collapses under the weight of its own ambitions.
Overall, this was a slug to sit through. The script was uninspired, the characters and their relational ties to one another were underdeveloped, and the comedy was cringeworthy. The acting was well enough for me not to walk out, and I appreciated the intent of the movie and what it was trying to satirize. Unfortunately, it was not near as scathing as the premise suggested, nor was it as good or effective as the Rotten Tomatoes score indicated.
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© 2019 Logan Daniel Williamson