About the Film
Directed by: Nisha Ganatra
Written by: Mindy Kaling
Starring: Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, Hugh Dancy, John Lithgow, & Max Casella
Release date: June 14, 2019
Rating: R (for language throughout and some sexual references)
Running time: 102 min.
Studio: Amazon Studios
This weekend was a divisive one for me at the movies. I screened one of the worst movies of the year in The Dead Don’t Die (see my full review here) as well as one of my new favorite films of 2019. I’m talking of course about the charming, topical and sapient if unexpectedly obvious workplace comedy Late Night, directed by television’s own Nisha Ganatra (Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Transparent) and written by comedian Mindy Kaling (Inside Out, The Mindy Project).
Kaling also stars in the film as Molly, a perky perfectionist and aspiring comedian who lands a gig as a writer for television’s biggest late night talk show, Tonight with Katherine Newbury, despite having never worked in entertainment. Molly’s arrival just so happens to coincide with the pending ousting of the show’s titular host (played by the great Emma Thompson), a sneering Brit who’s simultaneously adored by a generation of viewers and abhorred by much of her own staff. Katherine’s overbearing attitude at work has fostered a culture of carelessness behind the scenes which has manifested in a steady drop in ratings over the years. Think of it as The Devil Wears Prada by way of The Big Sick.
Initially, I kept thinking about how self-serving it was of Mindy Kaling to both write the part of and star as a newcomer who comes into a workplace with zero experience yet ends up saving the day and making everything better. As the film breezed along, I was caught off guard by how much of myself I began to see reflected in Molly as well as Katherine and in their daily struggles. Much of the credit goes to Kaling’s intelligent script, though it also speaks to how brightly both performers shine in their roles. Thompson especially makes a meal out of the material, particularly in her character’s quieter, more vulnerable moments. Dammit if I didn’t well up more than a couple times!
John Lithgow makes a handful of brief but impactful appearances as Katherine’s husband Walter, a cherished comedian in his own right who has largely withdrawn from public life. He’s always there for his wife but never he is he afraid to tell it like it is. It’s a warmly tempered performance by Lithgow and his time on screen with Thompson results in some of the most memorable exchanges in the film.
At times, Late Night threatens to take the road of a less interesting, cookie cutter romantic comedy. Molly strikes up a fling with Charlie (Hugh Dancy), a charming, handsome writer with a bit of a loose history. Thankfully, Kaling’s script mostly maintains its focus on turning things around at the studio and the enjoyable interactions therein.
For all its sincerity, Late Night bows out on a disappointingly artificial note with a resolution that feels like the main characters collectively agreed to hit the Easy Button. Though I walked away from this film with a heart three times its pre-screening size, I also couldn’t help but roll my eyes at a lot of what was going on in the last few minutes.
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (out of five)
Have you had the chance yet to check out Late Night? If so, what did you think? And if not, do you plan on it? Sound off in the comments below and let me know!