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Audrey Kupferberg: Late Night And Yesterday

The two summer movies to which I most looked forward have let me down.  LATE NIGHT and YESTERDAY.

The story of LATE NIGHT centers on a famous television talk show host, played by Emma Thompson.  While she has been on the air for decades and won eight Emmys in years past, her current status is that she is stale and menopausal – an unlikely combo for success in the current marketplace.  She is about to be replaced by a youthful male when she makes a stand to modernize her outlook and try to fit into a 21st century mold.  In doing so, she makes a token diversity hire, an Indian-American woman who has never written for talk shows before. 

That character is played by Mindy Kaling.  Kaling is appreciated by many for her portrayal of Kelly Kapoor on THE OFFICE.  She is a writer, producer, stand-up comic, and actress who is being given a push these days.  She wrote and co-produced LATE NIGHT, as well as costars with Thompson.  Because Kaling is an outspoken commentator on American culture, I expected that LATE NIGHT would have bowled me over with sharp, witty fast-paced lines that carry a strong message about gender- and age-related issues in TV programming and casting. 

Instead, LATE NIGHT offers a mundane look at a character who could have done so much more for so many years to keep her show on top, and could have attempted to be a nobler and nicer person. 

Emma Thompson is a standout star.  She does not let her audience down for a moment. Mindy Kaling has what it takes to make a long career in front of the cameras; she is energetic and charismatic.  Maybe she submitted a more worthwhile script for this project, and maybe it got watered down. I’m just speculating, because Kaling is looked to as cutting edge, and this film is not cutting edge. Even though LATE NIGHT disappoints for its insipid storyline, it entertains anyway due to the awesome performances of its two stars.

YESTERDAY tells the story of an inexplicable technical twist that causes the world to forget that the Beatles and their music ever existed.  This film was stylishly directed by Danny Boyle with a script by genius romcom writer Richard Curtis.  Because I am so addicted to Curtis’s writing, including LOVE ACTUALLY, NOTTING HILL, and FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL, I was so surprised to be checking my wristwatch every ten-to-twenty minutes. 

Whereas LATE NIGHT suffered from a flat script, I still watched with some interest because the cast was so magnetic.  YESTERDAY’s cast had little to offer.  The lead is a lackluster newcomer named Himesh Patel.  His character is a small-town entertainer who decides to present the Beatles songbook as his own, and have the world suppose him to be a great genius.  Throughout the film he sings Beatles classics.  So second rate….  Also appearing in YESTERDAY are Kate McKinnon, the lovely and talented Lily James, and Ed Sheeran, but even they cannot save this film.  As if boredom were not enough of a negative reaction, towards the end of the film, there is a controversial scene where Robert Carlyle appears uncredited in heavy make-up as an aged, alive(!) John Lennon.  At that point, my response changed from ennui to physical disgust. 

I’m spending much of the remainder of this summer reseeing episodes of my favorite British detective shows, INSPECTOR MORSE and NEW TRICKS.  Maybe there are no surprises, but at least I’m fully engaged and enjoying myself!  Then again, there ARE some promising films about to be released to theaters…. 

Audrey Kupferberg is a film and video archivist and appraiser. She is lecturer emeritus and the former director of Film Studies at the University at Albany and co-authored several entertainment biographies with her husband and creative partner, Rob Edelman.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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