(*homocinematically inclined)

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Dearest Review: Talk To Her

Ever since her hilarious, Emmy Award-winning performance as an exaggerated (and lesbian) version of herself on a 1997 episode of Ellen, I have said that Emma Thompson needs to do more comedy. And here she is, more than twenty years later, not only starring in a comedy but playing a comedian. And, as nighttime talk show host Katherine Newbury in Late Night (now streaming on Amazon Prime), Emma even seems to be channeling Ellen, sartorially speaking, sporting slacks, sneakers and short hair. Yet the prickly demeanor of Katherine harks back to a far more stern yet still crisply tailored media diva, Meryl Streep's Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, a film that Late Night oh so apparently tries to be.

Screenwriter/co-star Mindy Kaling has written the Anne Hathaway part for herself, a Betty Suarez-type in over her head as the newly-hired member of the writing staff for the long-running Tonight with Katherine Newbury. Kaling stacks the sympathy deck in her character Molly Patel's favor by making her a complete novice in writing, comedy and showbiz who is still put off when called a "diversity hire". As both the creator of and the actress playing the role, Kaling seems to be steadfastly against painting Molly as anything more than a Pollyanna-ish underdog; she even resists the advances made by the show's resident Lothario (Hugh Dancy). A smarter, less predictable take would have been to lean hard into Molly's Rachel Berry-ish over-earnest tendencies.

"Ah, yes, I'll take that Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy now."

Regardless, Late Night is Emma's show, just as Tonight is Katherine's... at least for now, as declining ratings are allowing a new network president (Amy Ryan) the opportunity to replace her with a douchey young male comic (Ike Barinholtz). With Molly's help Katherine rallies a comeback, but this is 2019 so a "#MeToo" scandal is thrown into the mix, albeit with a refreshingly gender-swapped element for once.

Nisha Ganatra directs Late Night in a breezy way that smooths over the script's rougher spots and adequately balances both sides of this "comedy-drama", the latter of which is featured mostly in a subplot concerning the character of Katherine's long-suffering, now Parkinson's Disease-suffering husband, played nicely by John Lithgow. This of course allows Miss Thompson to also show off her dramatic chops as well, proving that this lady may not be wearing Prada but she sure is a devil of an actress.

Dearest Rating: 7/10

Review by Kirby Holt, Movie Dearest creator, editor and head writer.

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