Late Night Cert: 15, 1hr 42mins
On paper you might not expect the combination of Emma Thompson, the double Oscar-winning first lady of British cinema, and Mindy Kaling, the American-Asian rising star of US television, to work. But what makes Late Night such an unexpected and delicious treat is that it does work – and quite wonderfully too.
It’s far too early in the awards year for making predictions, but if Thompson, who stars, and Kaling, who writes and co-stars, don’t secure a generous handful of nominations then an injustice will have been done.
Both are on top form here: Thompson showing us what a brilliant actress at the top of her powers can do, and Kaling surely taking her multi-faceted Hollywood career (she co-produces too) to a new level.
If Emma Thompson (above) and Mindy Kaling, who writes and co-stars, don’t secure a generous handful of nominations for Late Night then an injustice will have been done
They do so in a film that probably wouldn’t have been made in this way even three years ago, and yet now is absolutely perfect for these more enlightened, gender-rebalanced times.
This is a film that champions women – older women, in particular – and ethnic diversity in the workplace and yet doesn’t feel worthy for… I was about to say a single second but that wouldn’t be true. The last two minutes are a bit toe-curlingly right-on even if the underlying thought (success should be borne of merit not gender, race or family connections) is obviously a good one.
It’s Thompson’s contribution that immediately stands out, partly because she’s playing the central character of Katherine Newbury, a veteran chat-show host on late-night American TV, and partly because she makes the British-born Katherine so real. This is a woman who’s sacrificed almost everything to make her show a success – ‘I’m a 56-year-old English woman who has never given birth or seen a superhero film,’ she will later explain – but has latterly become complacent.
This is a film that champions women, and Kaling (above as Molly Patel) has written a screenplay that is funny, clever, poignant and with a depth often missing from comedy
She’s out of touch with her all-male writing team (the only one she can name turns out to have died seven years ago), hasn’t a clue about social media and has no idea that the world – and her audience – has moved on.
But when her female boss suddenly informs her that ‘this season will be your last’ she decides she’s not going down without a fight. First up, she realises, she needs a woman writer – enter the ambitious Molly Patel (Kaling), who until very recently has been in charge of quality control at a chemical plant.
Kaling is great in her role – as fans of TV’s The Mindy Project would expect – but her screenplay is even better. It’s funny, clever, poignant and has a depth often missing from even the best film comedy.
Thompson’s beautifully nuanced performance as the central character of Katherine Newbury, moves from alpha-female defiance to ageing vulnerability in a few moving heartbeats
Molly’s supercilious new male colleagues may think she’s been hired for reasons of political correctness but we know she’s an aspiring stand-up, won an essay-writing competition at her company and used the prize so cleverly that she’s already employed more resourcefulness than any of the men.
There’s real subtlety on display too, both in Thompson’s beautifully nuanced performance, which moves from alpha-female defiance to ageing vulnerability in a few moving heartbeats and in Kaling’s screenplay.
IT’S A FACT
Mindy Kaling’s first name was taken from Mork & Mindy. That was the only US TV show in Nigeria, when her mother was pregnant there.
Neither woman is without flaws, both make pretty terrible mistakes and Kaling the writer is generous enough to make sure the supporting male cast have some decent lines to deliver too.
‘I wish I were a woman of colour,’ moans one male colleague, ‘so I could get any job I wanted with zero qualifications.’ His friend concurs: ‘Right now, it’s a hostile environment in which to be a professional white male.’
The male sentiments may be unacceptable but the performances are not. Hugh Dancy is nicely understated as the much-fancied Charlie, Denis O’Hare is quietly terrific as Katherine’s right-hand man, and John Lithgow is wonderfully touching as the husband laid low by illness and, in due course, by a dark secret.
But Late Night belongs to Thompson and Kaling. Watching it, I got the same excitement as watching anything Phoebe Waller-Bridge does. Sisters are indeed doing it for themselves, and some of them are doing it brilliantly. Go see.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
X-Men: Dark Phoenix (12A)
Jean Grey was always my favourite X-Man, but that was back in the good old X-Men days when she was played by Famke Janssen and divided her time between looking a bit sad and flirting with Hugh Jackman.
I’m a bit less keen on her now that we’ve slipped back in X-Men time and she’s played by Game Of Thrones star Sophie Turner, who made her franchise debut three years ago in Apocalypse but takes centre stage here.
Sophie Turner’s Jean Grey (above) takes centre stage in this latest film in the X-Men franchise. Sadly, despite a good cast, the film simply doesn’t reach the heights of 2016’s Apocalypse
This is the film in which we discover how Grey super-charges her already pretty formidable powers, and indeed why she looks a bit sad from time to time.
Despite the presence of pretty much the whole First Class gang – James McAvoy as Charles Xavier, Michael Fassbender as Magneto, Jennifer Lawrence as Raven, etc – it doesn’t reach the heights of Apocalypse, hampered by some occasionally dodgy visual effects and a familiar-feeling storyline that has rather too much of the Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame about it.
Look out for a suspicious cosmic cloud and Jessica Chastain as a very angry alien.
Gloria Bell (15)
Julianne Moore is simply wonderful in the title role, a fiftysomething divorcée who has a dull job and difficult relationships with her adult children but refuses to give up on life, often taking herself out dancing in the sort of LA clubs that cater for a midlife, disco-loving crowd.
And it’s there that she meets the newly divorced Arnold (John Turturro), a man with sad eyes, a hesitant smile but definite romantic potential.
Julianne Moore (above with John Turturro) is simply wonderful in the title role of Gloria Bell, a remake of a Spanish-language film about a fiftysomething divorcée looking for love
Gloria Bell is smitten. But you don’t have to have seen Diane Keaton in Looking For Mr Goodbar to pick up an unsettling sense of impending disappointment.
Moore slips in and out of a lot of lingerie, social awkwardness takes centre stage and Chilean director Sebastián Lelio has a high old time remaking a film he originally made in Spanish six years ago. With a final dance- floor scene to break the hardest heart, it’s Moore’s best film since Still Alice.
Dirty God (15)
Any film about a young woman recovering from an acid attack mounted by a jealous ex-boyfriend is always going to be a painful watch but Vicky Knight – who as a child suffered extensive accidental burns herself – is outstanding as Jade, a young single mum already facing all sorts of social problems. And that was before her ex poured acid over her face, chest and arms.
Dutch film-maker Sacha Polak directs and, thanks to Knight’s brave performance, delivers an unflinching film that, while undeniably harrowing and a tad overlong, has genuine heart and hope.