Late night TV shows are big business in the US, the likes of Jimmy Fallon, James Corden and Stephen Colbert represent a few examples following the gilded footsteps of Jay Leno and David Letterman.
This is a medium ripe for satire, with writer and supporting actress Mindy Kaling taking aim at not only the late show premise but many other hot button topics.
Despite a clutch of awards and a stellar career, “Katherine Newbury” (Emma Thompson) is considered past her sell by date by the network decision makers. Being condescending to guests and failing to take part in click bait material considered beneath her, explains why viewer numbers are falling off a cliff.
Being hands on is not Newbury’s style, indicated by the replacement of writer names with numbers for ease of reference. The shows writing team are exclusively preppy white males, not considered a good look in the #metoo environment.
The team produce stale jokes or subjects considered too high brow for a channel hopping audience. It’s clear something has to change, randomly firing writers provides only a momentary salve to Newbury’s fragile ego.
What is needed is a shakeup in the writing team, perhaps somebody of the female persuasion and preferably “of colour”, a diversity hire if you will. Enter stage left “Molly Patel” (Mindy Kaling), who fulfills many of the required attributes, but lacks experience bearing in mind her previous career on the factory floor.
A good premise and the film adds extra depth when we realize Newbury has her own family issues and demons to deal with, notably her marriage to “Walter” (John Lithgow).
Whilst Meryl Streep managed to pull off “Devil Wears Prada”, Thompson feels somewhat forced and unbelievable in a similarly bitchy ruthless role. Arguably this fails to play to Thompson’s undoubted talents, which is only further highlighted by the far better later intimate scenes with Lithgow.
Patel is fine in the supporting role but the writing and story becomes more implausible and heavy handed as the film progresses, despite being whip smart and on trend. A tacked on romantic sub plot for Molly seems particularly unnecessary, only adding to the variety of loose ends to be tidied up.
There are also a surfeit of targets to hit, harassment in the workplace, inequality, treatment of diversity, glass ceilings, misogyny and why women are treated differently to men when reaching a more mature age bracket.
All valid points to explore but attempting to do so in one film, suggests a scatter-gun approach, leaving many targets missed or others only grazed. As always, handling stand up comedy in a feature film remains fraught with risk, with jokes similar to week old fish by the time the film is released, making for some awkward scenes.
Blessed with the talent on offer, a heady mixture of comedy and good intentions, this could have been more than a sum of it’s parts.
However, this may prove more than enough for Thompson fans or late night owls.