Late Night – Edinburgh Filmhouse

Directed by Nisha Ganatara

Written by Mindy Kaling

USA/2019/102mins

There’s an issue with American media (in the movie, far too many in real life). One of the highest-rated talk shows ain’t down with the kids. Viral-free, Tweet-free and with a revulsion of shameless reality star guests, Late Night finds national treasure, Emma Thompson, playing Katherine Newbury.

With more Emmys and Golden Globes than most people have silverware, Katherine hits out within a male-dominated field. Her issue? The show sucks. Seeking help, chief writer Brad hires Molly for diversity, played by Mindy Kaling who also writes the film.

Thompson does a tremendous turn in deflecting away from Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly of Devil Wears Prada fame. Her portrayal of Newbury is in essence far closer to that of David Letterman’s later years hosting. Her tongue is scathing, her emotions quite raw when a vulnerability is right for the occasion. Without question, the films steadfast assets are Thompson and Kaling, who elevate an otherwise decent flick into an earnest comedy which has a weighty degree of commentary.

As a diversity hire, Molly faces three key hurdles: she’s not white, has zero experience and she hasn’t got a dick. We avoid drudging into the tropes of an old genre. Kaling’s writing, no doubt relating to her time on The Office as the only female writer in its infancy, takes a concept and elevates it into a respectable, and thankfully humorous premise. Molly is the reverse of Katherine: highly strung, anxious and emotionally super-charged.

Behind the laughs, Late Night looks into what a female anchor can draw attention to, which her male colleagues couldn’t. When it seems to be heading into a predictable route, a few sharp turns take us away. Drenching itself into the discourses of ethnic hiring and slut-shaming, Kaling doesn’t go for the climax we would expect. In a well thought out manoeuver, they choose a realistic end in favour of an accessible ‘moral win’.

You can’t shake off a hunch that two incarnations of the film were in production. Kalin’s, and the other which was for trailer shots and to keep the studio content. Where Late Night wants to, it can draw blood with a smirk. In the next scene, however, it can slip back into areas which feel watered-down. Kalin sets them up, Thompson strikes the performance out there, but little resonates from the rest of the film.

With much construction on character, the cinematography is not a focus. Moments do come, when lighting is toyed with to heighten emotional states, particularly in the ‘reveal’ and the suffering which follows. It leads to the framing of a tender moment between Thompson and her husband, played by John Lithgow, who, as you would expect, is utterly adorable. It’s a scene which serves as evidence that there’s a solid, emotional film hiding beneath the sniggering and smirks.

Late Night requires a touch re-working (ironically) at the writer’s table. There are a few awkward one-liners, which feel like pulled punches. The duo of Kaling and Thompson are the force of this movie. Together, they spark, bouncing from each other, accentuating the talents of the other. It’s a partnership which we would eagerly watch again, the two showing without much effort that they can bring the fight to the old boys of comedy.

Review originally published for Wee Review: https://theweereview.com/review/late-night/

Scottish Opera: Rigoletto – Festival Theatre

Composer: Giuseppe Verdi 

Librettist: Francesco Maria Piave

Director: Matthew Richardson

Conductor: Rumon Gamba

Seduction, tangled with an overbearing father all play a part in the turmoil of Rigoletto, the hunchbacked jester. The 1851 libretto opera has been revived by the Scottish Opera following Matthew Richardson’s 2011 production. Now, fully escaping its historical censorship, Rigoletto can serve to entertain, whilst awakening our attitudes to morality, women and objectification.

Women are the scattered playthings of men in Verdi’s Rigoletto. An integral aspect is the way in which they are rag dolled around.  Female mannequins hoisted around as inanimate dance partners for the courtiers. Their use insightful, hollow, perfectly shaped woman who serve no purpose other than to dance, lay with and make no comment. Their torn husks scattered amidst the dregs of the Duke’s licentious pursuits. For what may seem a small aesthetic choice, it speaks volumes. Whilst they make grand martyrdoms – there are no winners in the courts of women. Men, for all their follies, are both victor and victim.

Skulking amidst the street lamps, Jon Morrell’s design coupled with Robert B Dickson’s revived lighting strikes a noir chord. The long coats, shadowed faces as eyes glint in the distance, give Rigoletto a new setting to play with. To describe the setting as minimalist would be too simplistic, conveying a voyeuristic tone. Sharp contrasting angles bring us further into the feel of monochrome cinema, in particular, the likes of The Third Man. Endless doorways ajar, enough to peak. Or better yet, a black drop with a sketched chalk doorframe – subtlety which compliments, rather than robs the light from the other components.

Enough about the aesthetics or themes of the production, time to focus on the majesty before us. Oh, not the vocals, though these are sublime. No, what I’m talking about is the Scottish Opera Orchestra. Channelling Verdi’s composition to the small interludes of jovial light-heartedness – just as much as the vocals, the music tells our tale.

It remains, of course, to comment that yes – vocally, Scottish Opera has a wealth of talent. Our trio of leads – Rigoletto the hunchbacked jester, the Duke of Mantua and the doe-eyed Gilda – daughter of Rigoletto. The mastery of their voices is evident, though Aris Argiris and Lina Johnson find the audience in their hands quicker than Adam Smith’s Duke. Sorrow in the eyes of Rigoletto is as clear as his antics, particularly in the crushing finale as Gilda’s soft tones whimper into the darkness. It takes a touch too long though for our malevolent Duke to make that switch into an operatic villain. Though the moment he struts out La donna è mobile we are hooked.

Our Eton-esque courtiers in their ‘pranks’ to steal away Rigoletto’s mistress conjure up the most poignant imagery this evening. Fearful in its depiction, but strikingly that we still laugh. The lecherous passing of her body, twiddling fingers ready for a feel. For them, this absent woman is simply a gag to be played, her assault and kidnapping all to serve a man’s humiliation – not her own. As Johnson carries the aria in a sublime manner, hooked beaks of the masques protrude in darkness, as her predators begin to assemble outside the window.

Richardson’s interpretation of Rigoletto serves more so than its 2011 conception to highlight the discarded attitudes towards consent, women and human morality. With the highest offices in the land endorsing the attitudes present in a mid-19th-century opera, it’s not shocking its dark tones are still appreciated. Scottish Opera has managed to maintain their stamp, bringing their wall-breaking aesthetics to the capital with magnanimous vocals.

Review originally published for Reviews Hub: https://www.thereviewshub.com/scottish-opera-rigoletto-festival-theatre-edinburgh/

Photo Credit: Richard Campbell