Early on in Late Night, the legendary yet ratings-challenged TV talk show host Katherine Newbury played by a never-better Emma Thompson receives a comedy honor – just one of many trophies she has been bestowed with over the years. Afterwards, she gripes to her ailing husband (John Lithgow) on the phone that her Spanx is cutting off her blood supply to her head. Similarly, this The Devil Wears Prada for joke writers, which smartly holds a mirror up to current concerns about diversity in the workplace along with gender and age discrimination, could use some editing Spanx to brighten up its pace.
That said, Thompson — who in her days at Cambridge University was part of a comedy troupe, Footlights, with the likes of Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie – certainly knows how to deliver a zinger. She also brings out the best in difficult, complicated women as well (P.L. Travers comes to mind in Saving Mr. Banks). But the heart of this movie resides in its odd-couple pairing of Dame Emma with Mindy Kaling as the first female writer and person of color to be hired for the show. That Kaling wrote the screenplay and also is a producer on the film directed by Nisha Ganatra (TV’s Transparent) is an example of life imitating art in the best way possible.
When Thompson (let’s ignore the fact that she stole Meryl Streep’s ice-queen hair from Prada) and Kaling are together, the sparks fly. But all the boys-will-be-boys humor attached to the previously all-male writing team often smells a little stale and overdone. But is Late Night worth watching? Very much so, thanks primarily to the ladies, who include Amy Ryan’s no-nonsense network executive. Let’s just say it lives up to Newbury’s own show-ending catchphrase – it earns the privilege of your time.