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Non-Review Review: Late Night

As the title implies, Late Night is a film about a late night American chat show, a prime-time institution that has lost its edge and finds itself almost at the bottom of a slide into irrelevance.

Katherine Newbury is a British comedian who landed a plum gig on American television and never looked back. Her nightly chat show is a fixture of the cultural landscape; the film opens with Newbury accepting a comedy award, and a late scene takes place in a room in her house that seems to be overflowing with trophies. However, there is also a sense that Late Night with Katherine Newbury has become sloppy in its old age. Ratings have been declining for a decade. The network is eager to replace the veteran broadcaster with somebody younger and fresher.

Talking shop.

Against this backdrop, Molly Patel arrives. A young woman with no direct comedy experience, Molly finds herself drafted into the writers’ room as a cynical “diversity hire.” A former “factory” (“chemical plant,” she repeatedly and insistently clarifies) worker, Molly is a big fan of the show who also understands that it needs a course correction. Indeed, Late Night accepts that the old-fashioned format needs to be updated, and becomes a battle over how best to modernise the template. Network president Caroline Morton and talent agent Billy Kastner suggest radical reinvention, but Molly thinks the basic template is still sound.

To a certain extent, it feels like Late Night is having a conversation with itself about itself. The movie belongs to the familiar tried-and-true template of the “new job or career crisis” comedy, those films about inexperienced characters who find themselves thrown into a new job with no real grounding and forced to adapt to their circumstances; Second Act is the most recent example, but there are plenty to choose from including Morning Glory, The Ugly Truth, 9 to 5, Working Girl. It is a familiar genre, the first-cousin of (and often interwoven with) the romantic comedy.

A bright spot.

The romantic comedy has been having a very public conversation with itself in recent years, playing out through the viral success of Netflix’s love letters to the genre like Set It Up or in more straightforward but more diverse big screen iterations like The Big Sick or Crazy Rich Asians. Indeed, Late Night feels like something of a companion piece to The Big Sick and Crazy Rich Asians, a film that fundamentally understands the sturdiness of the narrative template with which it is working. Like Molly’s approach to the eponymous show, Late Night understands that the basic structure doesn’t need renovation, just the content.

The result is an endearing workplace comedy that plays as a loving homage to the genre, elevated primarily through execution. Late Night understands the importance of new perspectives and reacting to a changing world, but it also understands what fundamentally works in movies like this. Late Night benefits from two fantastic central performances from Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling, playing two very well-drawn characters. It is consistently funny, but also consistently well-observed. Late Night demonstrates that the workplace comedy works for a reason, and sets out to demonstrate the genre’s robustness.

Addressing the issues…

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How Has New Media Affected Cinema?

The Internet has given everybody in America a voice. For some reason, everybody decides to use that voice to bitch about movies.

– Holden McNeill, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back

There’s been a lot said about new media. Blogging and twitter and facebook and so on, this modern age of new media we live in. I took up blogging as a hobby fairly recently (just under a year), so I’m rather late to the party. There’s a whole host of stuff written about how social networking and the internet have drastically altered civilisation as we know it, so I thought I’d just ponder about cinema and the old, established media.

Where there's a Will, there's a way...

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Policing Product Placement…

Product placement. Sponsorship. Payola. Image branding. Advertising. Astroturfing. The use of media – old and new – to sell products to people – whether they know you’re selling it to them or not. It has always been a bit of a thorny issue – with laws popping up against the legendary, but ultimately unproven, “subliminal advertising” – the flashing of words and images between the stills of a movie so fast that the audience couldn’t actually see them (though some would claim that these images made a subconscious impression, it has been difficult to consistently reproduce – but it was still banned). The last few decades in particular have seen a flurry of rules and regulations attempting to regulate what you can sell to who and how. But is advertising that easy to regulate?

"The Mac - for the insufferable genius in all of us..."

"The Mac - for the insufferable genius in all of us..."

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