Emma Thompson Gives One Of Her Best Performances In Recent Years As Host Of A Late Night Talk Show. While Writer, Co-Producer & Star Mindy Kaling Makes Her Screenwriting Debut With A Smart, Breezy, Witty, Crowd Pleasing & Timely Comedy In “Late Night”.
I thought it was going to be hard to find a competitor to April’s release of “Long Shot”, the political comedy starring Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen. Last weekend’s released “Late Night” from Amazon Studios, written/co-produced and co-starring Mindy Kaling finds “Long Shot” fighting for the title of best adult comedy of the year.
While “Late Night” isn’t autobiographical, it surely feels as though it stems from Mindy Kaling’s real-life experience getting hired as a writer on the American version of “The Office”. Kaling’s big screen writing debut in “Late Night” can Be formulaic but Kaling keeps it smart, breezy, witty, intelligent, entertaining, crowd-pleasing, and a timely comedy that serves as a glossy update of the “Devil Wears Prada” in the show biz world.
“Late Night” feels like it’s headed in the path of a romantic comedy in which there’s not a lot of romantic, actually there is almost none. While Kaling is good at writing rom-coms, as it’s evident in her five season run of her TV show “The Mindy Project”. This isn’t a girl meets boy story, there is no meet cute. It’s all about girl meets career, this is a rom-com about being in love with your job, and having the passion and drive to pursue your dream and stand your place in a male dominated business.
“Late Night” is a behind the scenes workplace comedy, where the workplace is a traditional, long running, Emmy winning New York late night talk show called “Tonight with Katherine Newbury”. The legendary Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson) has been hosting the show for some 30 years, has a room full of Emmys and hasn’t been popular with the younger generation for at least a decade.
Katherine is greatly respected, who doesn’t much care for women, has no female friends and has never had a woman on her writing staff. That is until Mindy Kaling’s Molly, who has a Mary Tyler Moore level of enthusiasm. She is quickly witty and has zero writing experience as her last job was quality control at a chemical plant or as some call it a factory (there is a great running joke about that through the film). She is quickly added to the writing staff as a diversity hire. The world of late night is still considered a man’s world, as all shows on late night are led by men. There is Ellen but she isn’t in the competitive late night talk shows. Kaling expertly casts a spotlight on the reality of what that a woman like Katherine would have to content with in today’s world.
“Late Night” is predictable to say the least, it’s one of those films that we know where it is going from the get go. Although it doesn’t mean “Late Night” doesn’t toss a couple of curveballs along the way. Humor is the great equalizer, both Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling are terrific as two women who are funny and dedicated women who should never be underestimated. The best moments come courtesy of Kaling and Thompson who effortlessly bounce one-liners off one another like they were two tennis players competing at Wimbledon.
Despite Kaling’s sharp comedic dialogue, she manages to work in some provocative elements, including #metoo and the whole me-too movement , but all done in unexpected ways. Kaling balances the funny with a lot of heart and allows for Thompson to deliver the film’s most emotional moments. As when she shares the screen with a scene stealing John Lithgow, portraying Emma Thompson’s husband who is ailing from Parkinson’s Disease.
Even a brilliantly staged exchange with Max Casella (“Doogie Howser M.D.), a longtime writer on Katherine’s show, whose best friend was replaced by Molly. He tells the sobbing newcomer Molly “to do what writers do: “write”. Molly’s diversity may have gotten her in the door, but she knows it doesn’t mean a damn thing if she doesn’t write something funny.
Kaling’s take on Molly is very much a take on Kaling herself, coming off as spunky, intelligent, witty, charming, enthusiastic and a bubbly personality. Kaling could have easily given her the talk show host role, but instead she wrote the character of Katherine with Emma Thompson in mind and giving herself the lower-key part as the ambitious, sweet-natured writer. Kaling made the right choice as the role of Molly fits her nicely and Emma Thompson, sinks her teeth into one of her best roles. It’s evident Thompson is having fun playing a riff on Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada”.
Much like Charlize Theron in “Long Shot”, Thompson is a serious actress going for the comedic and succeeding on every level. She plays the shades of the evil boss well, but has the right amount of spark to keep Katherine sympathetic which is a tricky act. The cast is pinpoint perfect within it’s supporting players like Reid Scott, Max Casella, John Early, and Hugh Dancy (“Confessions Of A Shopaholic), they all meld together well and have equal chemistry.
Kaling and director Nisha Ganatra delivers a wonderfully funny, emotional and insightful film, which the enormously likable Kaling plays to her strength as a comedic lead. Everyone who knows me knows I love Mindy Kaling and “Late Night” shows the talent she has both in front and behind the camera. She mixes it up beautifully with the veteran and always on top of the game Emma Thompson, who has the ability to make us laugh even when she’s so horrible.
“Late Night” says a lot in a way that is both funny and relatable. If this were an actual late night talk show, with writing as sharp as Kaling’s. “Late Night” would be ratings gold and the late night talk show circuit would not be a man’s world no longer.
GRADE: ★★★★☆ (4 out of 5)