sun 22/09/2019

Late Night review - Emma Thompson star vehicle needs a serious rewrite | reviews, news & interviews

Late Night review - Emma Thompson star vehicle needs a serious rewrite

Late Night review - Emma Thompson star vehicle needs a serious rewrite

The double Oscar-winner should have held out for a tighter, tougher script

Brave-faced: Emma Thompson in 'Late Night'

“Get me rewrite!”: That’s likely to be a common reaction to Late Night, the well-meaning but surprisingly slipshod star vehicle for Emma Thompson set in and among the writing world of a New York late-night chat show that is hitting the skids. Thompson brings a peppery command (and some seriously stylish hair) to the role of Katherine Newbury, a disdainful small-screen personality who refers to her writing staff not by their names but by numbers.

And yet time and again, Mindy Kaling’s script seems itself in need of doctoring from one of Katherine’s put-upon scribes. You applaud the film’s desire to hit numerous hot-button topics of our time, from racial and gender stereotyping to the hypocrisy embedded in the kind of “slut-shaming” that all but does Katherine in.Mindy Kaling in 'Late Night'But neither Kaling (pictured above), who takes the co-starring role of the onetime chemical plant worker who becomes Katherine’s new (and only female) recruit, nor her Canadian director Nisha Ganatra manage any consistency of character or tone. It’s all but impossible to believe that a competitive, 56-year-old star of the small screen would refer to “something called a hashtag” – what planet is Katherine on? Kaling’s appealing Molly, too, is jerked this way and that by a self-penned script beset with a ludicrous romantic subplot involving co-writer Hugh Dancy that goes nowhere alongside more firings and re-hirings than her hard-working character has had morning coffees.

You sense at once the indebtedness the film owes conceptually to, among others, The Devil Wears Prada, whose (in)famous Miranda Priestly sowed the fear of God among all in her midst just as Katherine does here. (“When she said my name,” notes one of her writers, Tom, in the film’s best line, “I almost got an erection.”) Arching her eyebrows for effect, Thompson is at her most commanding when asserting the very authority that gives her an adrenaline rush, even as she must combat the disapproval of a boss (the great Amy Ryan, underused) who is prone to ominous remarks like, “I’m watching, Katherine; give a damn.” (Additionally figuring among Katherine's fretful retinue is Denis O'Hare, seen recently at the National Theatre in Tartuffe and pictured below with Thompson.)

Emma Thompson and Denis O'Hare in 'Late Night'Away from the workplace, we see Katherine doing her maquillage in the company of an older and ailing husband (a sad-eyed John Lithgow, his character here battling neuropathy), who is knocked sideways by the revelation of a “Hollywood sex scandal” involving his wife. Quite why the personal travails of this New York-based Englishwoman – revealed to be a Dame no less, a title Katherine true to form is heard to deride – classify as “Hollywood” gives room for pause. Similarly, you have to wonder near the end why the clearly trim, fit Katherine seems all but knocked out physically by having to climb the stairs – gasp! – to Molly’s Coney Island flat in order to bring her back into the fold. Wouldn't her (unseen) personal trainer have made Katherine match fit and then some? (Perhaps her tony Gramercy Park townhouse has a lift.)

The final reel finds everyone making nice as is the expectedly sentimental way of such things. Katherine gains a renewed popularity by discovering her own authentic, politically and personally more candid voice: That, in fact, would make for a welcome and interesting scenario for a movie, but Late Night grabs at it fleetingly only to come to an abrupt end.

You have to wonder why Thompson's clearly trim, fit Katherine seems all but knocked out physically by having to - gasp! - climb stairs

rating

Editor Rating: 
2
Average: 2 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters

Advertising feature

★★★★★

A compulsive, involving, emotionally stirring evening – theatre’s answer to a page-turner.
The Observer, Kate Kellaway

 

Direct from a sold-out season at Kiln Theatre the five star, hit play, The Son, is now playing at the Duke of York’s Theatre for a strictly limited season.

 

★★★★★

This final part of Florian Zeller’s trilogy is the most powerful of all.
The Times, Ann Treneman

 

Written by the internationally acclaimed Florian Zeller (The Father, The Mother), lauded by The Guardian as ‘the most exciting playwright of our time’, The Son is directed by the award-winning Michael Longhurst.

 

Book by 30 September and get tickets from £15*
with no booking fee.