Thompson stands out in ‘Late Night’

‘Late Night’

Grade: 2 and a half stars (out of 4)

Rating: R for language throughout and some sexual references

Running time: 1:42


AP Film Writer

Watching “Late Night,” an enjoyably zippy if scattershot comedy about a veteran late-night host and her fresh-faced new writing hire, a persistent thought runs through your head: How have we been abiding without a steady supply of leading roles like this for Emma Thompson, and why haven’t we by now elected her ruler of all living things?

As a David Letterman-like figure whose three decades on the air have left her disengaged and fearsome, Thompson is so regally good that you crave more of an actress who certainly never went away but who has in recent years often kept to the margins of movies.

Nisha Ganatra’s “Late Night,” penned by Mindy Kaling, is a clear reminder of what we’ve been missing. Her Katherine Newbury, like Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly, is a boss from hell. She hasn’t even met most of her writing staff, and when she does, gives them numbers, one through eight, to remember them by. She makes all around her, including some of her guests, tremble.

Her reign in late-night television, though, is at risk of coming to an end. The twist comes from Molly Patel (Kaling), who’s hired by the show’s producer (Denis O’Hare) after it’s brought to Katherine’s attention that she has a problem with women. All of her writers are men. Maybe when it comes to late-night television, realism isn’t the way to go. You just can’t beat “The Larry Sanders Show,” after all. But “Late Night” isn’t quite sure how real it wants to be, cartoonishly exaggerating some angles and telling others straight. Most of the real-life late-night hosts are referenced or make cameos, including Seth Meyers and Bill Maher. Yet the inner-workings of “Late Night with Katherine Newbury” aren’t especially believable, and it never feels like an actual show.

The movie is better as a workplace comedy that plunges right into very contemporary issues of diversity and sexism in media.