LATE NIGHT (7 out of 10) Directed by Nisha Ganatra; Screenplay by Mindy Kaling; Starring Mindy Kaling, Emma Thompson, John Lithgow, Hugh Dancy, Reid Scott; Rated R for language throughout and some sexual references; Running time 102 minutes; In wide release June 14, 2019.
Late Night came to me at a perfect moment. Not only had I just started a new job in an industry I only kind of know about and I feel I am struggling to fit in at the office, but I have always had a Big Dream of being the first woman to host a late night talk show (not even a lie. I had a whole roll out marketing plan mocked up). And coming from a writer who I knew would understand the struggles of being a female in entertainment, I was prepared for this movie to pack an emotional punch.
Emotional? Yes. Punchy? Almost.
Not quite a story of the struggles women face in entertainment–or really any work environment–Late Night instead takes the concept of a romcom and replaces a romance with Hugh Grant with a platonic and toxic work relationship with Emma Thompson.
Written by Mindy Kaling, she also stars as naive, novice comedy writer Molly who is offered a job (as a diversity hire) on a late night talk show, Tonight with Katherine Newbury. Katherine (played by Emma Thompson in a role written just for her) is notoriously callous, uncaring, and stale. She is the first female to host a late night talk show, but the novelty has worn off and her ratings have dipped over the past decade, leaving her in danger of being replaced by a Dane-Cook-type fratboy comedian. Newbury is reluctant to evolve her format, blaming the audience for changing and needing something that appears to the lowest common denominator.
Late Night definitely has Kaling’s style all over it. The screenplay aims to blend her experience as a woman of color in a writer’s room with her love of romcoms while also leaving the romance at the door. Romantic relationships and potential are peppered throughout, but they do not steal focus from the real message of the movie: accepting our flaws and acknowledging change is inevitable.
As with most talk shows, the real charisma comes from the people. The characters all bring something human and real to the show (both fake TV show and movie). Molly is an underdog, an inexperienced and loyal newbie willing to throw herself in completely. Katherine is successful and proud, stubborn and flawed but dealing with her own depression and marital life. Dynamics between characters are something everyone can relate to, including office rivalries and flings.
Although Katherine ultimately acknowledges her faults and promises to do and be better, we still witness a toxic relationship and workplace without any real consequences. Late Night romanticizes this troublesome relationship all in the name of achieving a dream. It is a sincere romcom, meaning that despite all the troubles and all the heartache, everything seems to work out for everyone. “I was mean to you but dang it I need you” is not a message that translates well in 2019.
A common theme we are seeing in movies recently about successful women lean on the idea of “emotions are bad and you’ll never be successful if you show how vulnerable you are.” The writers of Katherine Newbury’s show cling to this idea. It’s scary to put yourself out there, but in reality, everyone’s powers stem from this act of revealing your true self and accepting your emotions rather than trying to bury them.
In the end, Late Night is a nice break from reality–women make a difference, are held to an equal standard as men, and reach accomplishments with ease. I didn’t leave ready to take on the world with my own talk show, but I did leave ready to face my new work environment with a new attitude.
7 out of 10