Show & Tell: Late Night


It’s a good thing that August in New Hampshire offers film lovers so many non-film things to do, because the month is a traditional Hollywood’s dumping ground for the movies that should never have been made, much less released. A quick scan of offerings at the MallPlex 88 doesn’t have a lot of new stuff. It’s like the classic critic’s assessment of an author’s work: “There is much in your book that is new and good. Unfortunately, what is new is not good and what is good is not new.”

To offer a little relief to cinema lovers, The Music Hall takes on its traditional role of coming to the rescue.

Tuesday, we will be discussing Late Night, a comedy written by Mindy Kaling and starring [drum roll] Emma Thompson as the only woman to succeed as a long-term talk show host. The plot of the movie involves Thompson’s gradual realization that her show has become flat and uninteresting, and is in danger of imminent cancellation.

Coming to the rescue is Mindy Kaling (who also wrote the script) as a token female hire who dares to challenge Thompson to do better.

Workplace comedies generally stick to a predictable formula, with a bad boss battling it out with a plucky band of rebels, and these movies get their octane from a fast pace and a high snark level. I think Office Space still holds the title, although there are formidable contenders dating back to 9 to 5 and even to Desk Set.

But Late Night, which takes the issue of a lack of diversity in the entertainment industry seriously, is also a tour de force for Thompson, as the defensive, driven show host who hasn’t changed her writing staff for decades. Dame Emma has always possessed one of the finest withering looks in the business, and it’s her skill at making her domineering character plausible, both before and after her enlightenment, that keeps the movie on track.

There’s no real heavy lifting in Late Night. The issues the movie addresses are well known (although the solutions are not). But Kaling’s script has several surprises in store, and Kaling’s acting, as the only character who will tell Thompson that she’s over the hill, is perfect.

You may suspect from the specificity of this invitation that I’ve already seen the movie, and that’s true. But I’m really looking forward to seeing that Emma Thompson stink-eye again, as well as a nice cameo from John Lithgow as the supportive (?) husband. This is a very good summer movie. We will converge in The Historic Theater at 7:00 on Tuesday, August 20.

And next week, we have something at the other end of the action scale, Maiden, which is the story of the first all-female crew to compete in the Whitbread Round the World sailing race in 1989. You may find this hard to believe, but their entry was enthusiastically mocked by their male competition and the yachting press. This is a movie rich in adventure, suspense, and inspiration, and will be a great Farewell to August occasion on August 27.

See you there!

Paul Goodwin