Late Night – A Perfect TV Movie

I rarely fly, but I’m forever grateful to the inventor of in-flight entertainment. On a recent trip, I was able to access a dozen channels of live TV during my flight. So, in between episodes of Shark Tank and Chopped, I watched The Intern. And I realized, this movie is absolutely perfect for TV. Even with big names like Anne Hathaway and Robert De Niro, the film is so pleasant, so inoffensive, so perfectly timed for commercial breaks, it was almost certainly made for television.

So it is with the new release Late Night, starring Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling. Thompson is an American late night host who is British, sarcastic, witty, posh and outdated. She learns that her show is going to be cancelled due to low ratings, unless she can turn things around. Oh, and she also doesn’t hire women – so, to save face, she demands they hire a woman for her writing staff.

Wouldn’t you know it, bubbly optimist Mindy Kaling is looking for a job as a writer! She applies for the job and gets it immediately (without any pretenses – she knows she’s a diversity hire). On the first day, a grumpy Emma gets mad at her writers for not having good ideas. Mindy offers some up, Emma rejects them at first, but then they try them. And, spoiler alert, there are literally no surprises as to how things play out. Like a good episode of Friends or Everybody Loves Raymond, the stakes are never too high, the resolution is ripped straight from a Screenwriting 101 textbook, and the tension is nonexistent.

The movie’s predictability is just one of many elements that make it TV-worthy. The main draw is the comedy, which is genuinely enjoyable without being offensive. A lot of modern comedies are written by people who apparently don’t understand that people over 50 watch movies too. They throw in crass humor, innuendo, and profanity almost subconsciously, and we end up with mediocre movies like Long Shot (I saw it at the dollar theater – many of the older patrons weren’t amused, and several left early). Those jokes may play well to a younger audience, but are often too ‘edgy’ or ‘cheap’ for older generations.

In that sense, Late Night is a breath of fresh air. The comedy is original, character-driven, situational, ironic, rarely sexual (if ever), and consistently wholesome. Even a running ‘political’ joke is focused less on marginalizing one party and more on Emma Thompson’s age. The highlight by far is the montage of Emma trying Mindy’s new ideas, including one called ‘White Savior’, which is hysterical.

That’s not to say the film doesn’t fall prey to some of the more mind-numbing aspects of a TV movie. Namely, the soundtrack, which is a saturation of elevator music that’s comically mediocre. But it’s easy to overlook that, as well as the predictable story elements, thanks to the strong chemistry between its two leads. They play off each other believably, and Kaling’s screenplay allows her character to grow, not just to be the means by which Thompson’s miserable hostess becomes nicer.

In all, this is a Goldilocks movie. Not too offensive and not too safe, but just right. Not too boring and not too gripping, but just right. Not too memorable and not too bland, but just right. This is a prime example of a movie with so much ‘just right’ that it’s cathartic. I’d highly recommend it – but wait until it’s playing on TV or on your next flight, save your theater ticket for something more deserving of a big screen.