Late Night – Review

Comedy writer and actor Mindy Kailing (The Office) brings a cutting satirical energy to the world of TV writing, competition and gender boundaries with her latest screenplay, directed by Nisha Ganatra. Late Night delivers a nuanced and highly intelligent dissection of power and opportunity in the TV industry. Within a warm-hearted comedy/drama that builds hope in a more progressive world than one we currently live in.

Late Night takes us into the world of the celebrity chat show, where competition and network ratings are king in achieving success. Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson) is a seasoned late night chat show host, having one multiple awards over a career spanning 30 years. However, her show is struggling, with declining viewers and a complete disconnect with her all male writing team; Tonight with Katherine Newbury is in serious trouble. Despite her passion for politics and challenging male dominated TV boundaries, Katherine has become complacent. Accepting and embedding herself into the male dominated world that surrounds her, becoming her own self-imposed boundary to the progression of women in media. Her writing team (most of whom she has never met) exist within a boys club adolescent atmosphere, their writing never reflecting the personality or drive of the chat show host they aim to embrace and encourage.

On realising, she needs a female writer on her team, Katherine instructs her manager to hire a woman immediately. Giving Molly Patel (Kailing) the break of her life after years works working as a quality control manager in chemical plant. Molly’s fresh outlook immediately challenges the male dominated writing team, as well as her new boss Newbury. Her arrival, ultimately allowing the team and its celebrity host to explore the real passions and drive that brought them to TV. However, with falling ratings and a new female executive who wants to drop Newbury in favour of a misogynist comedian, time is running out to save the show and its host.

Late night offers a highly nuanced exploration of workplace diversity, that applies to office culture and leadership far the beyond the TV studio of its setting. This is a cutting satirical exploration of gender boundaries both created and enforced, alongside misogyny and a boy’s club culture of recruitment and class restriction. What makes Late Night’s screenplay incredibly clever is its ability to dovetail all of this into a film that feels heart-felt, light and warm, and while some aspects play to a fantasy of opportunity, the core of the film is based in the realities of workplace diversity that affect us all. Late Night never attaches blame to any one group in the lack of progressive workplace dynamics, but reflects a system where people often fall into the trap of confinement in order to maintain their place and position.

Thompsons Newbury and Kailings Patel shine on screen, each offering character studies that play to the different roles women can have in furthering workplace diversity, while never shying away from the boundaries and collusion that can lead to self-protectionism in corporate structures. Male characters are multi-dimensional, never resorting to easy stereotypes, while clearly exploring the changing role and reluctance inherent in male dominated industries. Equally, class, race and opportunity sit central to male and female experience, in the ability to change the structural barriers that prevent people bringing new ideas into industries that are clubs for those with family connections.

Late Nights side stories also have real depth and warm, particularly the relationship between the tough Newbury (Thompson) and her husband (John Lithgow) who has stepped away from public life following his diagnosis with Parkinson’s disease. Scenes between the two actors are full of love, and mutual respect, with the challenges of career, marriage and illness explored delicately but confidently.

Late Night is smart comedy/drama that braids diversity and inclusion with satirical wit, charm and humour into a film that ultimately offers hope to a more progressive workplace culture.