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Late Night

The Late Night world of American television is one of the most cut-throat areas of Hollywood and show business. The likes have been parodied in shows such as 30 Rock (2006-2013) and The Larry Sanders Show (1992-1998); both series chose to look at the exigencies of Late Night through a comedic lens. This perspective is highly appropriate given the genre being portrayed, and thus it was a natural destination for Mindy Kaling’s new Late Night (2019).

Late Night follows Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson) the only woman talk show host on TV. Her show’s ratings have been declining over the past decade and in a desperate attempt to liven up her all-white-and-male writer’s room she hires the aspiring, but inexperienced Molly (Mindy Kaling) who’s previous job was at a chemical plant.

The film is very timely in a moment when the aspects of representation and women empowerment are a hot topic. Kaling herself wrote the script, and it is clear that she is able to infuse a sense of realism and experience from her times in writers rooms like that of The Office (2005-2013), Saturday Night Live (a brief stint in 2006), and her own broadcast series The Mindy Project (2012-2017). That sense of truly experiencing the inner-workings of late night TV is one of the big draws of Late Night. The political and social issues are also written and integrated with relative ease, showcasing the arguments on both sides by using Molly’s character and the other white and male co-workers. It is smart not to demonize the male writers, showing that they have reasonable (if flawed) counter-points, and even including Katherine herself as a reason for suppressing female voices. In the end, this look at the determination needed in order for a minority writer to prove herself encapsulates much of the film, leaving the relationship between Molly and Katherine (that had been marketed as central by trailers and posters) rather to a side.

In fact, it was this relationship between the two that felt a bit shoehorned towards the final act. There had been minor build-up prior, but the relationship always stood as that of a roadie and a rock star. The majority of the film was bold in its depiction of Katherine’s ruthlessness and Molly’s resolve, it is only in the resolution that Late Night becomes alien to itself; everything ends up too perfect and comfortable, and clashes with the urgency and brilliant depiction of flawed characters.

The directing gave off an aura of insecurity from director Nisha Ganatra. She ended up leaning too much into music throughout the film, so that we felt like we were being brusquely told what to feel, not letting the actors achieve this by themselves. With the quality of Emma Thompson and John Lithgow, who plays her husband, it would a crime to have any soundtrack over them. Thompson is in absolute command of her character, and it is truly hard to find a role where she doesn’t exude absolute confidence (for her ability to make impact with so little just look at the Joni Mitchell scene in Love Actually (2003)), there is no doubt in her mind about the actions and twitches of her character and Late Night proves no different.

In the end Late Night proves to be a comfortable comedy that while bold and poignant in its first two acts, fails to make a resolute stand as it crumbles into conformity at the end. Thompson and Kaling bring their two talents on page and screen to culminate in a rewarding and enjoyable collaboration.



About Young Critic

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I've been writing on different version of this website since February of 2013. I originally founded the website in a film-buff phase in high school, but it has since continued through college and into my adult life. Young Critic may be getting older, but the love and passion for film is forever young. 

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