Check out Mindy Kaling’s newest creation “Late Night” starring Emma Thompson as Katherine Newbury, a woman who is about to be ousted from her comfortable seat as a late night talk show host. Why? Because there’s a new, young, hip guy, Daniel (Ike Barinholtz), waiting in the wings to push her right off and teach this old stick-in-the-mud a few lessons on what it means to be funny. Of course, that’s all before Kaling’s naively bold and talented character fo Molly enters the scene. With a dream of writing for her idol, she inadvertently lands the job only because she’s female. What happens after this all rings true of society today, the issues at hand, and somehow still makes us constantly laugh till tears stream down our cheeks.
With Kaling in the writer’s chair and handing the director’s seat to Nisha Ganatra, the duo prove to be creatively powerful as they find the perfect chemistry needed to pull of a sometimes politically incorrect yet insightful perspective on sexism, agism, and racism not only in the country, but particularly in the entertainment industry.
Kaling, perhaps from real life experience of being the only female in a male dominated environment, is in the catbird’s seat as she skillfully and innocently portrays Molly. Her earnest outlook on her new job and why it was offered to her is the spice that this all-male team of late night writers needs to stir things up. Kaling’s performance is extraordinary as she allows us to watch her youthful character change and grow, seeing the world in a different light. Kaling is a comedic genius not only with writing, but with acting. Her depth of character, as with great comedy, peels away the layers to make her vulnerable and while we are laughing, we are also relating. It’s an extraordinary feat, yet Kaling makes it look easy.
While there are plenty of side stories taking place, this is Molly and Katherine’s story and how the two women learn and grow from one another. Katherine faces the reality of who she once was and who she now sees in the mirror, but Molly, who helps Katherine redefine herself, also has some growing to do. Together, they are magic on screen and the polar opposite personalities and looks just add to the fun chemistry and occasional explosions.
Thompson absolutely shines in this role, pushing her skills to showcase her comedic timing and her dramatic skills to create a well-rounded and realistic woman who has been at the top of her game and now faces almost-certain retirement. Thompson appears more than comfortable as the late night talk show host, carrying a burden of guilt from the opportunities that fame sometimes affords, which plunges her character into confronting other relationships in her life. Thompson is strong and powerful, yet there’s a sense of fragility within her character that allows us to connect with her.
John Lithgow is Walter, Katherine’s husband, and the one person who truly knows her and has the chutzpah to express his honest opinion. These are the moments that break your heart and inspire you as you see who this woman is and what she has experienced. The team of writers on the set of this late night show, from Max Casella to Denis O’Hare, give the film another element of authenticity. It is this honesty, sometimes a bit harsh, that elevates this film from just another comedy to one that is meaningful and even has an important message.
Ganatra directs this talented cast to give exceptional performances and deliver comedy with precision timing. It’s a difficult balancing act when you combine drama with comedy and Ganatra never loses sight of the comedic undertones, even when we are shedding a few tears.
We’re seeing more and more stories where women are the focal point which allows for new perspectives and ideas to be shared. “Late Night” is a film for everyone to see the world through a different and very entertaining lens.
To read the review in the Friday, June 14, 2019 edition of THE DAILY JOURNAL go to THE DAILY JOURNAL