Late Night is the story of legendary talk show host Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson) = she’s a female David Letterman. Her long-running late night show has gotten stale and her writing staff is in need of new blood. In comes a new female writer named Molly (Mindy Kalong). Meanwhile, the network is looking to replace Katherine with a younger comic. As Katherine, Molly, and the rest of the writer’s room work hard to make the show relevant again, Katherine is faced with the reality that she may lose her show.
In Late Night, director Nisha Ganatra and writer/actor Mindy Kaling invite audiences into the vibrant, and at times cutthroat, world of late night television. The film starts a story about Molly’s journey, but it’s just as much about Katherine. Emma Thompson as Katherine is what fuels the film. Katherine is a well dressed, sharp woman that’s been a talk show host for decades. As sharp as she’s dressed, she’s even sharper with her tongue. With very few words, Katherine can take down someone with sniper like precision. As Katherine’s journey unfolds, it feels like she believed she needed to be that cutthroat in order to succeed.
The best thing about Katherine’s character is how unlikable she is. She’s mean to her staff, she doesn’t know anyone’s name, and goes out of her way to not interact with her writers. Even with a laundry list of reasons to hate Katherine, Emma Thompson’s performance makes you feel for her. She thinks everything is perfectly fine and ignores the elephant in the room – her show is failing.
Mindy Kaling as Molly is an energetic writer thrust into a world she knows nothing about. Despite having good ideas, her male counterparts take every opportunity to isolate her and not make her feel welcome. However, she does get some much needed advice about doing the job she was paid to do and making herself feel necessary to the show. In the midst of the craziest time of her life, Molly is finding her voice as a writer and a woman.
Both women are in different positions and stages of their careers. Yet, they’re both dealing with the pressures of working in a male dominated industry. Some of the workplace issues pointed out are subtle and some are a little too on the nose.
The supporting casts of writers are great. They are all different types of men that range from the nepotistic jerk to the walking HR complaint. They don’t have a tremendous impact on the story. They’re there to harass Molly and bow the throne that is Katherine Newbury. The change in the other writer’s behavior is the only indication we have that things are progressing.
As poignant and powerful as some of the dialogue is, there are few moments that drift into romantic comedy fantasy land. Most notably the ending that feels a little too We Are the World compared the harsh realism displayed throughout the film. Using a mix of humor and lively characters, the film does try to tackle bigger issues like how women are treated in the workplace and learning to find your voice.
Late Night is a mature comedy that’s laugh out loud funny and also thought provoking, At times, the jokes can feel too telegraphed but that doesn’t take away from the energetic comedy that flows throughout the movie. Kaling and Thompson are a comedic duo worth the price of admission. There are few comedies as authentic as Late Night, I hope we get more.