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Review: Late Night (Sundance)

Late Night (Sundance)
7 10

PLOT: An acerbic English talk show host (Emma Thompson) with waning popularity, tries to revamp her image by hiring a female writer (Mindy Kaling) with little experience but a strong take on what the show could become.

REVIEW: At a film festival like Sundance, it’s always a pleasure to take a break from heavier fare with a nice, light piece of entertainment like LATE NIGHT. A perfectly sweet comedy, that plays a bit like a showbiz take on THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA, this Mindy Kaling vehicle, which she co-wrote, should win plenty of fans in Park City and would be a smart pick up for a distribution outfit looking for a good, solid, small-scale crowdpleaser.

It’s not hard to see aspects of Kaling’s own career show up here, with her having famously started working various jobs on late night TV, giving her insight into what must be a cut-throat world. Kaling herself probably could have aced the talk show host role, but rather she gives herself the lower-key part as the ambitious, sweet-natured writer who finds herself sticking out in a privileged, all-white and all-male writer’s room.

While definitely making a statement about the need for diversity in the workplace, with the point being made that if you want to shake things up you have to hire people with a different perspective than your own, the writer’s room guys, while initially ignorant, aren’t portrayed unsympathetically. In fact, in a reversal, her initial ally proves to be less altruistic than she thought, while the most privileged, sexist bully has his own surprising reversal that feels earned.

Through it all though, LATE NIGHT stays light. Kaling and director Nisha Ganatra take the air out of self-important, showbiz flicks, which tend to treat the industry like its life and death which, let’s face it, it’s not. Still, they manage to work in some provocative episodes, including #metoo, but in an unexpected way that you won’t necessarily see coming.

Key to the movie’s success though is Emma Thompson, who sinks her teeth into one of her better recent roles, and seems to be having a whale of a time as the acid-tongued host. In another fresh departure, you’re not always expected to sympathize with the bullying boss, who’s shown to be something of the architect of her own decline. Thompson plays those shades of gray well but has enough of a spark to keep the character more-or-less sympathetic, a tricky balancing act.

The supporting cast is also rock solid, with John Lithgow as Thompson’s Parkinson’s afflicted husband, while I TONYA & BLACKKKLANSMAN standout Paul Walter Hauser rounds out what’s been a trilogy of the comically ignorant - although he’s allowed to be less toxic and more sympathetic this time.

While LATE NIGHT probably won’t pull a BIG SICK and wind up in awards contention, it’s nonetheless a hugely likable film that will no doubt please Kaling fans, and perhaps win her some new ones. To be succinct - it’s just pleasant, something that’s not always easy to pull off, making this a big success.

Source: JoBlo.com

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