Mindy Kaling is back and better than ever. The Office and The Mindy Project alum stars in the new comedy Late Night. Emma Thompson (Harry Potter), John Lithgow (The Crown), Reid Scott (Veep), and Hugh Dancy (Hannibal) star alongside Kaling. The film was directed by Nisha Ganatra.
The movie follows Katherine Newbury (Thompson), a comedy legend and the late-night talk-show host of Tonight with Katherine Newbury. After being accused of hating women, she tasks her assistant with hiring a female writer to add to her currently all-male (and all-white) writing staff. Cut to Molly Patel (Kaling), an employee at a chemical plant whose life is turned around after landing her dream job as a writer for Newbury.
Molly, however, must prove she isn’t simply a diversity hire. With the show in decline and the looming threat of Newbury losing her show completely, Molly finds her opportunity to shine. Of course, she hits some roadblocks along the way. She’s not taken seriously by the other writers. Any criticism she offers about Tonight is swiftly brushed aside because of her lack of TV writing experience. Newbury also slows the progress the entire writing staff tries to push. Years of hosting a talk show keep her stuck in her traditional ways, causing her to resist changing up her style to appeal to a wider audience. She shuts down suggestions like regular, out-of-studio segments from Molly. She doesn’t entirely understand the value of mainstream guests (e.g actors on popular TV shows, YouTube stars). Her high standards for her show, her guests, her writers, and everyone else create major challenges her staff struggle to overcome.
Eventually, the network president (Amy Ryan) tells Newbury about her intended replacement for the show, a stand-up comedian Newbury finds crass and unfunny. Hit with the full realization of losing her show, Newbury begins to work more closely with her writers. She opens up to Molly’s suggestions, and begins to rely on her perspective more and more. At last, Newbury’s show is alive and thriving again. Naturally, everything is not resolved so easily. After a couple more hurdles in Newbury’s personal and professional life (that also have consequences for Molly), the movie reaches its satisfying conclusion.
True to her roots with The Office and The Mindy Project, Kaling creates a story filled with smart, witty humor that will make you laugh, but also does not try too hard. The characters are comedic in their own way. Although the humor is generally the same across the board, each character has their little quirks that make them stand apart comedically from one another. Tom (Scott) takes obvious pride in being the head monologue writer and is diligent about reminding everyone. Molly enjoys jokes that range from silly puns to satirical jokes for Newbury’s show. Other characters are snarky or have a more dry sense of humor. Whatever form it takes, there is a variety of humor that blends together to create a playful, entertaining tone.
One of the movie’s greatest strengths is Katherine Newbury’s arc. When we’re first introduced to her, she shines onstage, but offstage, she’s more distant, focused on her show, and more than a little selfish. Outside of her husband (played by John Lithgow), she’s impersonal with those around her. She is a no nonsense woman who does what she believes is best for her show. For several years, it is a tactic that works in her favor, but her pride stands in the way of her continuing to better her show. Once Molly joins the team, Newbury begins to set her pride aside, albeit extremely slowly. She becomes more open-minded about ways to improve her show, while also realizing that she does not need to lose the traits that helped her thrive, so long as she is more aware of how it affects the people helping her the most. By the end of the film, Newbury is still focused on her show, of course. She still holds on to a little of her selfishness and pride, but now it helps rather than hurts the show. She trusts Molly’s criticism. She takes steps to connect better with her writing staff, and in doing so, allows them to write monologues and jokes that more closely reflect her personality. Newbury’s growth stems from her desire to resolve a situation, but never feels abrupt or confusing or false. While she wasn’t an unlikable character to start, it becomes much easier to root for her throughout the movie.
The other characters were also well written. Though most didn’t have quite as drastic an arc as Newbury, they all eventually learned to work with Molly and appreciate the talent she brought to the table, regardless of experience she did or did not have. They helped her learn. Molly started in a job where her comedy was telling goofy jokes to other chemical plant workers. Upon joining an environment where she could really hone her craft, we are able to watch her grow into a talented TV writer passionate about her work. Her journey is just as exciting to watch unfold as Newbury’s.
Overall, Late Night was smart, charming, and enjoyable film. It was wonderfully written by Kaling, and brought to life in a satisfying way by Ganatra. The cast brought great performances to the screen, and kept me smiling until the end. Late Night is the perfect movie to cheer you up or keep you in a good mood, and is a must-see this summer.
Late Night is now showing in theaters.