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Wake-up call for chat show host in Late Night

06 June, 2019 — By Dan Carrier

Emma Thompson as late-night chat show host Katherine Newbury in Late Night

THIS likeable, stress-free comedy seeks to tackle big issues from a sideways direction – namely, sexism and racism in the workplace.

It does so by telling the story of an ageing TV presenter and the challenges she faces in maintaining her popularity, the introduction of a younger female with an Indian background to an all-white, all-male scriptwriting group, and essentially how vile and sexist the entertainment industry can be.

Who knew?

Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson) is the late-night chat show host, the Brit who has for years been a darling of the US TV networks.

But her shine is fading: falling ratings, lack of relevance and, above all, a snobby inability to wake up and smell the coffee means her days are numbered.

Add to this a haughty attitude towards her staff – she refuses to learn their names, but instead calls them by a number – and you can see why her show isn’t much fun for anyone anymore.

Then, through a quirk of plot writing that makes no sense at all, Molly (the film’s writer, Mindy Kaling) appears for a three-month stint and shakes things up.

Throw in side tales about extra-marital affairs, slut-shaming, the vacuity of show­business in the age of the internet (was it ever thus?) and an upstart comedian (Ike Barinholtz) with his eyes on the top job and you have a cultural minefield for Thompson’s character to navigate before things can turn out all right.

There are some gags about Britain and American cultures clashing, and plenty on sexism in the workplace, the idea of a “diversity” job candidate, and some takes on the journey we as a society need to go on to bring about proper equality.

The film is raised up a notch because Thompson is terrific, as are all her co-stars.

But the film does lack something – Katherine is a hard underdog to root for, simply because she isn’t one: OK, maybe we should cheer and holler her ability to change and be herself, and the enemy in the form of her male replacement is such a scumbag you couldn’t begin to want him to win.

But it’s not quite enough for you to fall head over heels for Katherine, and her voyage from being hard-nosed nasty to soft-hearted female TV show icon won’t make you want to sit up and wave a flag in support.

Still, with a cast going hammer and tongs at the witty one-liners, it’s hard not to enjoy the show.

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