Review: Late Night

DIR: Nisha Ganatra • WRI: Mindy Kaling Music: Lesley Barber • DOP: Matthew Clark • ED: Eleanor Infante • PRO : Ben Browning, Jessie Henderson, Mindy Kaling, Howard Klein  • CAST: Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, John Lithgow, Ike Barinholtz, Hugh Dancy

Late Night, written and produced by Mindy Kaling achieves something not many films do – it discusses pertinent cultural issues yet is underlined with the uplifting positivity of a romantic comedy. The film, which stars Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling, can be viewed as a conversation opener. It paves the way for subjects such as gender and race to come to the fore. It’s worth celebrating that these topics are raised and also handled with a degree of insight and transparency – and not forgetting a healthy dose of clever humour.

Structurally this film contains many recognisable romantic comedy aspects; it contains heaps of self-realisation and roadblocks that are overcome with dramatic flair. However, one crucial element of the romantic comedy is muted and replaced with a new focus – it showcases women that are pursuing their careers rather than an irresistibly charming man. Both Thompson and Kaling shine in their roles; Thompson as revered comedy talk show host Katherine Newbury and Kaling as Molly – the naïve, overly enthusiastic yet charming new comedy writer on Newbury’s talk show writing team. As the jaded romantic narrative is omitted in this film it highlights instead two women overcoming the various obstacles that they face in the world of TV. The plot centres on Katherine Newbury scrabbling to carry on as the host of her talk show aided by Molly’s interventions and ideas.

As the title of this film would suggest, it explores the present state of talk-shows and where their popularity falls within the ever-changing landscape of the media. In terms of entertainment this film questions both what do people want to hear and who do they want to hear it from. The film commences with the self-possessed, sophisticated and undeniably smart, talk-show host Katherine Newbury accepting what we are soon to learn is just one of the many awards she has won throughout her career. This beginning is a stark contrast with what follows – the long concealed news that her show’s numbers have been dropping for years and her position and power are shaky.

With her show slipping away, Katherine must entirely re-question her style if she is to compete in the fast-paced, short-attention-spanned world of today’s social media and Youtube culture. The film reveals that media is changing – Katherine’s experience, intellect and sharp wit have been replaced with seemingly mindless teens and videos of online animals. Despite her awards and success, the film takes a realistic stand point in highlighting that she must incorporate popular tastes, gags and internet celebrities in order to keep her viewers engaged. This film does not shy away from revealing the decline in popularity for shows such as Katherine’s and effectively depicts dog-Youtubers and teenage vampire actresses as the silly yet scary threats to the legacy she has built. It calls into question media as we know it and begs the question if talk shows can remain relevant in modern society and if so how.  

While Emma Thompson excellently embodies the infamous Katherine Newbury, Kaling’s performance as Molly is equally engaging and culturally relevant. While it is made clear in this film what kind of content is now necessary to keep audience’s attention the film also shows who we are now interested in – what voices in society need to be heard. Katherine hires Molly not based on her experience but rather because she needs to fill a hole in her comedy writing team – a woman. The film takes issues of race and background head on, with it being revealed to Molly that she’s not there on merit but rather as a “diversity hire”. It is clear that the world of this office is one of the white, seemingly privileged male and Molly is only there to make sure a different voice is represented on this team. The inherent acceptance that Molly, based on her Indian heritage and female gender, is not welcome in the writer’s room is reflected when the other male writers presume she is an office administrator rather than a writer. Molly’s initial earnestness to succeed is quickly crushed by her peers. Although in rom-com fashion she does overcome these challenges, her experiences highlight successfully how far she must go to be accepted in this role on the basis of her race and gender.

As this comedy focuses on women who are committed to their careers, this provides an insight to the trials women must face to be accepted in their roles and stay relevant and on top of their game. While Katherine Newbury is represented as legendary within the world of comedy her position is still threatened by the next unimaginative and vaguely sexist young male comedian that comes along. The ratio of men to women in the writers group is 7:1 meaning that in this world only a certain portion of voices and opinions are being heard. For example, Katherine Newbury chooses to shy away from women’s issues which aren’t often discussed such as menopause and contraceptive choices. The world of TV painted in this film shows one where even a powerful woman, regarded as being accomplished, still needs to fight to retain her position.

Overall Late Night is an extremely enjoyable watch with serious subjects raised but with a smart joke around every corner. It courageously says what might not always be said and to that effect it raises questions that need to be asked and changes that need to be made. Emma Thompson encapsulates the star that gets a reality check and fights to the end to remain the star that she is- all whilst showcasing a dazzling collection of power suits. Mindy Kaling has written an excellent film which illustrates the difficulties which can be in a working gal’s way and shows us how to overcome them with equal doses of strength and comedy.

Irene Falvey

101 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
Late Night  is released 7th June 2019

Late Night  – Official Website


 

 

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