Late night TV is big business where top ratings matter. If you’re the host and can’t deliver, your days are numbered. Emma Thompson delivers a terrific performance in Amazon Original’s Late Night, a smart, tightly paced comedy with witty characters, strong acting, and a hilarious femme-centric plot directed by Nisha Ganatra from a screenplay by Mindy Kaling.
Thompson plays veteran late night TV host Katherine Newbury who’s about to lose her long-running show due to audience erosion. She has no clue how to reinvent herself or the show’s format to appeal to a younger audience and boost her ratings before the network pulls the plug. Her luck changes when she makes a spur-of-the-moment decision to hire her first female staff writer, Molly Patel (Kaling), a young woman of color half her age with no experience other than as a quality controller at a chemical plant. Patel may be naïve, but she’s also outspoken, ambitious and has a heart. She’s an astute observer of life and people, uses her stand-up comedy hobby to benefit others, and unlike her new boss, is adept at using social media. She offers Newbury the fresh perspective she desperately needs to turn her show around.
Sparks fly when Newbury’s accidental diversity hire joins the ranks of the privileged white male writing staff, a conceited bunch whose boss treats them with contempt. They resent the female interloper with no credits that Newbury foists on them to replace one of their long-time colleagues she’s just fired.
Late Night is an ideal vehicle for Thompson who has wonderful comedic energy, perfect timing, and a natural ability to deliver some pretty snarky one-liners. She also shares palpable on-screen chemistry with Kaling which makes their characters from different generations and cultures engaging and relatable. The film features a fantastic supporting cast that includes Amy Ryan, John Lithgow, Hugh Dancy, Reid Scott and Denis O’Hare.
There’s lots to be said for Ganatra’s take on Hollywood, where despite all the arrogance, pretense and insecurity, there’s also a place for humor, loyalty and compassion in the competitive world her characters inhabit.