Even ‘Late Night’s’ star Emma Thompson called the idea “science fiction”; a female late night talk show host. Pfft! Preposterous! Only men are funny. Only men are smart enough to tackle politics, pop culture, gossip and world affairs at the same time. Am I right? Samantha Bee broke the mould in recent history, but you’d hardly call her a household name - I mean, when was the last time she sang in the car with some glamorous celeb? So when the Golden Globes roll around next year, will ‘Late Night’ be considered science fiction? If ‘The Martian’ can be called a comedy then anything is possible. Of course it’s not just the female TV star angle that make this a work of fantasy, it was also written by and stars another woman... of colour! But wait, there’s more - it was also directed by a woman of colour (Nisha Ganatra, TV’s ‘You Me Her’)! I can hear Donald Trump opening a blank tweet and tapping away now.
When late night stalwart Katherine Newbury (Thompson, ‘Saving Mr Banks’) discovers that she’ll be replaced at the end of the season, she realises that she doesn’t want to go and that the complacent attitude she’s had towards her job for many years is not going to cut it any more. So, it’s out with the wrong and in with the politically correct in a politically incorrect manner. Enter Molly Patel (Mindy Kaling, TV's ‘The Mindy Project’). She has no qualifications and absolutely zero experience but she’s a woman, her skin is brown, and she has hopes and dreams that can be exploited. Welcome to the writers’ room, Molly. Sure, walking into an office full of white men can be intimidating but Molly’s peppy attitude, her belief in herself and an armful of cupcakes can help her overcome any obstacle... except her boss.
Thompson’s Katherine Newbury is to late night talkshow hosts what Streep’s Miranda Priestly was to high-end fashion editors. But while Priestly was an evil sociopath, Newbury is simply an uncompassionate bitch. While both characters’ charming personalities are explained away by their demand for excellence, Priestly’s standard was psychotically high and unachievable, while Newbury’s is simply untenable yet aspirational. But Katherine needs a female voice on her writing staff and she needs someone who will call her on her BS - otherwise, everyone is out on their arse in favour of yet another vulgar male who believes misogyny and the idea of taking a shit in someone’s shoe is comedy gold.
Alrighty, there’s a lot to unpack here, and a lot of issues that get their share of screen time. Firstly, you should know that ‘Late Night’ is funny. It’s not a raucous laugh a minute, it’s more intelligent than that, but it is funny. And why wouldn’t it be? Kaling cut her teeth on ‘The Office’, showed she was a comedic force to be reckoned with on ‘The Mindy Project’ and now she’s gone bigger, bolder and has Emma freakin’ Thompson spouting her words. A(wo)men!
I would have preferred if Kaling’s character had the personal and professional résumé to be right as well as just righteous.
Is ‘Late Night’ a perfect film? No. It could have used a few tweaks in the edit suite, and a couple more on the page. Yes, the “woman”, “women in comedy” and “woman of colour” angles are pushed and pushed hard - but then again, isn’t that what the movie is about? Nothing is too in-your-face or shoved down your throat, but you will notice it as these are things you don’t often come across in cinema (or ever). I just would have preferred if Kaling’s character had the personal and professional résumé to be right as well as just righteous, but that’s just me. Either way, she’s great and holds her own against the dynamo force that is Thompson, relishing in her element as a smart, powerful female with a mean streak. ‘Late Night’ is definitely worth the privilege of our time.