Despite formidable work from stars Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling, who also penned the script with Thompson in mind, this socially conscious comedic drama doesn’t always perfectly click.
Thompson’s Newbury is a tough late night talk show host and multi-Emmy-winner who’s been on the air since 1991 and has gone rather stale. When she uncomfortably realises this, a series of circumstances lead her to take on Molly Patel (Kaling), who has no real experience in writing comedy and is looked upon by a room full of white guys as “a diversity hire”. Despite all the opposition, Patel sets about trying to make the show funnier, edgier and more political, and then the word comes down from network president Caroline Morton (Amy Ryan) that Newbury is to be replaced due to dwindling ratings. And, it seems, by a man (and a ghastly fratboy scumbag at that).
In order to hopefully keep her job, Newbury must then, of course, properly embrace some of Patel’s ideas and even (yikes!) change, as she introduces gags about planned parenthood and the sex lives of Republicans, and gets Newbury out on the street and making pointed jokes about her “white savior” status. And the two women bond as much as Newbury will allow, as those seven overly-privileged males sneer.
It all feels pretty contrived at times, but often works fairly well anyway, and there is a lot to like, including the scenes where Thompson appears with no less than John Lithgow as her ailing husband Walter. It’s a slightly underwritten and semi-saintly sort of part for him, but there’s still much pleasure in watching these two pros get sentimental together.
And yet, somehow, it falls short of brilliance, possibly because Kaling and director Nisha Ganatra seem to think that comedy is like drama, only slower. In the end, Kaling and Thompson’s double act delivers enough to stay up for – if you can resist the itch to change channels along the way.
Late Night (M) is in cinemas now