Nisha Ganatra’s new comedy Late Night had a lot of potential going into production. An Oscar-winning actress (Emma Thompson), a hit TV comedy star (Mindy Kaling) and a successful filmmaker (Ganatra). It’s also the first of three big feature films this summer centered on Indian leads, alongside Yesterday and Blinded by the Light.
That’s pretty cool and unique by Hollywood’s rather narrow standards. But if anything, the new comedy reminds us that movie productions are different beasts than TV productions, even though the story is set around a TV team.
In downtown New York, Molly Patel (Kaling) takes a wild chance and applies for the position of new staff writer on late-night TV host Katherine Newbury’s (Thompson) talk show. Molly works at a chemical plant and is hired simply because Brad (Denis O’Hare) in human resources is amused she found a way into applying just from the fact both companies are owned by the same parent corporation.
Katherine is about to lose her show after 15 years of being the biggest female host in late-night TV, and needs something fresh and relevant to change her network’s mind. Molly ends up being that new addition Katherine’s writing staff needs, much to the chagrin of the male writers, especially when Katherine has no interest in getting to know her colleagues.
Amy Ryan appears as the head of Katherine’s network, and Hugh Dancy, Reid Scott and John Lithgow are the supporting men in the cast. Late Night does have a lot of laughs since, at the end of the day, Kaling is a good comedy writer and knows how to work with the setting. Thompson isn’t completely out of her element either. Though we know her from period pieces and dramas, her real-life dry personality works well for playing the narcissistic host on screen.
The thing holding this feature back for me is that despite the humor and good chemistry between the cast, it doesn’t “feel” like a movie. It ends up channeling the atmosphere and tone of a TV episode. This makes sense, since Kaling is a TV veteran and Ganatra has more credits directing television than film. But it works against the picture in my opinion.
There are a few scenes near the beginning where the editing feels almost like a student film with so many jump-cuts and quick transitions . This wouldn’t be as noticeable on TV, as the production values are a lot lower for a series. But in a theater, I couldn’t stop noticing it. Despite this, I might still recommend Late Night if you have a free weekend need some easy laughs.
Megan Bianco is a Southern California-based movie reviewer and content writer with a degree from California State University Northridge.