Film Review – Late Night

Directed:  Nisha Ganatra

Writer: Mindy Kaling

Starring:  Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, John Lithgow 

Tagline: “They’re giving comedy a rewrite”

Trivia: There are multiple mentions of Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson) publicly discussing her clinical depression. This played on the real-life occurrence of Thompson discussing her depression following her split from Sir Kenneth Branagh.

By now you know I would watch Emma Thompson read the Telephone book (if it existed) and still enjoy and be hooked by her. But this time it’s the wonderful Mindy Kaling that gets the spotlight in this brutally piercing comedy.

Late Night is a sharp and sincere comedy about sexism in broadcasting in the era of #MeToo and social media written and co-stared by Mindy Kaling.

Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson), a legendary late-night talk show host, takes a drastic step to stop her sliding ratings by hiring Molly Patel (Mindy Kaling playing a shrewd variation of her TV persona), the first female to penetrate Katherine’s writing staff of white dudes.

Out of this simple, sometimes simplistic premise, Thompson, Kaling and director Nisha Ganatra spin comic gold.

The long-time lack of a female host on late-night speaks to the story’s relevance, but the film goes further by showing how Katherine has spent years in the trenches without helping other women rise in the ranks.

Katherine is the example of what Madeleine Albright meant when she said “There is a special place in hell for women who do not support other women”.

Kaling, who struggled to build her own sitcom (The Mindy Project), knows about career obstacles to women and people of color. She also knows something needs to be done to fix it.

Katherine is a paradoxical figure. In spite of her job cracking jokes and interviewing other celebrities, she is “not a people person”. 

An English woman in America, she is bad at small talk and treats her staff and her employers with equal contempt. In social media age, she is a dinosaur.

Thompson captures perfectly her character’s odd blend of arrogance and insecurity. She also delivers the many snarky one-liners with relish and perfect comic timing.

Katherine’s character might remind some Miranda Priestly from the Devil Wears Prada, but that isn’t so. Katherine is considered as human first and boss-from-hell second.

The film takes the time to actually question the source of her internalized misogyny and doesn’t just chalk it up to her being a caricatured super villain.

Katherine is a powerful woman in Hollywood who has broken down walls, as well as a nearly unchangeable jerk, who later revealed has made some dodgy decisions in her personal life.

At a crucial moment in Late Night, Molly Patel accuses Katherine of viewing her as ”diversity hire.”

Katherine’s response is swift and blunt: “You are a diversity hire. But the point is you’re here.” And now that Molly is in “the room where it happens,” it’s time for her to do something and change and fix things.

I’ve had many discussions with my hubby, who says that diversity hiring is wrong and no one wants to be ”diversity hire”, I disagree with him.

I think that any means are fine to get into the “room where it happens”. But then we must change things from within. That’s what Kaling is doing in an adorable way in this movie.

It’s a joy to see how many women were involved in this movie behind the scenes, which is a testament to the message of the movie.

The insights are real and the overall resistance to cliché is admirable. Every time you think Late Night is settling into familiar lines of topics — about workplace politics, mean bosses, long marriages, fish out of water, bootstraps and how to pull them — it shifts a few degrees and finds a fresh perspective.

It argues that entertainment benefits from the presence of different faces and voices not by preaching but by example. And while you may or may not be convinced by the thesis that it’s possible to be funny without being mean, in Katherine’s presence that question is debatable.

She’s something not many movie characters are allowed to be, at least not to this extent. She’s interesting and intelligent.

Verdict – 5/5 Stars in my book


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