Back at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, one of the more commercially viable movies to screen was Late Night, a comedy penned by and co-starring Mindy Kaling. Those thoughts were not misguided either, as strong reviews preceded Amazon Studios stepping up with a big film acquisition. Now, it’s hitting theaters, hoping to work as a bit of summer counter-programming. The folks at Park City weren’t lying either, as this is a real crowd pleaser. Anyone not into explosions and blockbusters would do well to check this one out. It’s quite charming, with an undercurrent of angry satirical humor, to boot.
The film is a combination of showbiz/workplace comedy, as well as a look at being a woman in a male dominated industry. For years, Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson) has been a pioneer and legendary late night talk show host. Faced with low ratings, the possibility that the network wants to replace her, and the accusation that she’s a woman who hates women, Katherine instructs her producer Brad (Denis O’Hare) to add some diversity. This leads to the hiring of Molly (Kaling) a comedy fan on her first ever writing gig. Desperate to prove that she’s not just a diversity hire, as the other writers on staff believe, she sets out to help Katherine revitalize her show, before it’s too late. In the process, they develop a bond, one that could impact both of their careers in a very real way. Nisha Ganatra directs a script that Kaling herself penned. Matthew Clark handles the cinematography, while the score is from Lesley Barber. Filling out the cast are Ike Barinholtz, Max Casella, Hugh Dancy, Paul Walter Hauser, John Lithgow, Amy Ryan, Reid Scott, and more, including a handful of cameos.
There’s plenty to like within this movie. Not only is the flick funny, it’s smart about its observations. Kaling and Thompson both portray characters who are right and wrong in equal measure about their places in the world. As they interact, walls come down, leading to new understanding. If there’s a flaw here, it’s the third act need for some unnecessary drama. Other than that, it threads the needle of being silly and being angry about how women are treated by men. On a slightly personal note, I wasn’t a huge fan of the mean joke about living in Coney Island (bet you can’t guess where I reside), but that’s just me being a jerk. This is an incredible easy to enjoy mid level comedy, the sort we don’t see much anymore.
Emma Thompson especially shines here, displaying blistering comedic chops. The best scenes in the movie feature her harsh humor. She’s capably matched by Mindy Kaling, though the latter gives the former all of the best lines and scenes. Smartly, she writes to the strength of the material, not to her own personal benefit. John Lithgow also turns in a quietly affecting supporting turn, helping to give some extra emotional color and heft to the story. The comedy is what puts this one on the map, but the low key emotions of Lithgow and Thompson’s relationship gets Late Night over the top.
As of today, Late Night has hit theaters and offers up a very nice alternative to the big budget monstrosities currently clogging the multiplex. Kaling deserves more opportunities to write, Thompson is likely a Golden Globe nominee in Best Musical or Comedy, and the whole product just is a very charming endeavor. Anyone tired of blockbusters for a moment and hoping for a throwback comedy would do well to seek this one out. If you do see this film, I’m fairly confident that you’ll enjoy it. It’s just that easy to like a movie. Try and resist its charms, I dare you…
Be sure to check out Late Night, in theaters now!