Mindy Kaling takes her writing skills from the small screen to the big screen with her latest project, “Late Night” – a delightful summer diversion from the big-budget blockbusters that is smart, insightful and funny.
Kaling plays Molly, a longtime fan of late-night talk show host Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson) who gets the chance to work with her idol when she is hired to be part of Katherine’s writing staff.
Molly immediately finds herself as the fish out of water, working with an all-male staff that doesn’t want a woman in the boys’ club. As Molly tries to fit in and prove she belongs, Katherine learns the newest network executive (Amy Ryan) has decided it’s time to pull the plug on the long-running show, which is suffering from a stagnant format and low ratings.
Molly sees this as the opportunity to make her splash and help Katherine revitalize her ratings and get her career back on track.
“Late Night” is an ambitious film that tackles everything from sexism in the workplace to the late-night talk show wars (which have died down a bit in recent years, but still make for interesting drama), and even the #MeToo movement.
To Kaling’s credit, her screenplay really hits these points with (mostly) effective results. Kaling’s background in comedy and television, as well as director Nisha Ganatra’s background in television, proves to be a big strength – because this is a movie where the workplace feels authentic and the ensemble cast is allowed to be a part of the film and not just extra pieces with no real purpose.
There are a lot of moments from Ryan, John Lithgow as Katherine’s husband, Reid Scott as Molly’s biggest office rival and Ike Barinholtz as a young standup comic who the network wants to take Katherine’s show. They are just a few of the handful of supporting performers who really give “Late Night” a spark and authenticity.
But the film ultimately comes back to Kaling and Thompson, who have magnificent chemistry together. Their budding friendship is the heart and soul of “Late Night,” with the film as much about Katherine as it is Molly.
And boy, Kaling gives Thompson a lot to work with, allowing the Oscar-winning actress to deliver one of her finest roles in recent memory – a comic tour de force that is one of 2019’s best performances to date. Thompson captures Katherine, the good and the bad, with devilish glee – providing “Late Night” with the jolt it needs every time it feels like the film is starting to sag a little.
Thompson’s work is enough to recommend “Late Night,” but thankfully Kaling has given the script plenty of other morsels for fans of adult comedies to feast on. It’s a film that hopefully doesn’t get lost in the sea monsters and superheroes.