Late Night — 5/10

LATE NIGHT (2019, Nisha Ganatra)

Emma Thompson is fantastic, a fresh reminder of how great she’s always been, and how unfair it is that she’s a rare treat instead of an annual one on movie screens. She and John Lithgow, just as great in a much smaller role, are the best — and two of the only — reasons to see this slapdash Jay-Leno-Wears-Prada sitcom/romcom. In fact, the ‘com’ is overstating it a bit — there are very few jokes at all here, as Kaling’s script is far more concerned with hitting formula beats (albeit in a fresh way — all the genre conventions with regards to a love story are repackaged here with two women: one the boss and the other an underling) than it is with making you laugh.

Thankfully, while you’re busy not smiling much, Thompson is imbuing her Ellen Degeneres-styled TV host with several dimensions, both barbed and vulnerable, and she makes you ignore the absurdities of the manufactured plot (in 30 years, she never tried being herself on screen?) and the lack of solid gags (the one lynchpin monologue joke Kaling’s character is so proud of was ripped off wholesale from George Carlin 25 years ago). But the production is also strangely incompetent — poor sound mixing, continuity errors galore (drink a shot every time Thompson lights a cigarette during one conversation), and barely functional blocking make the whole thing feel like a Hulu original that somehow clawed into theaters on the strength of Thompson’s performance.

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