- 17 Jun 19
Lively exploration of late night TV.
Inspired by her experience as the only woman in the writers’ room of The Office, Mindy Kaling pens this light and spiky comedy directed by Nisha Ganatra (Chutney, Cake, TV’s Transparent). Kaling plays Molly, an efficiency worker in a chemical plant, who lands a job as a comedy writer for late night’s only female presenter, Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson). As the all-white, all-male writers’ room loves reminding her, Molly was a diversity hire. But as she accurately retorts, their first choice was a less-funny nepotism hire, showing the damaging and limiting attitudes built into many institutions.
Katherine is aware of these attitudes – but she also perpetuates them. A blend of general misanthropy, internalised misogyny and disillusionment has resulted in her becoming complacent and hostile, on and off air. But when Katherine hears she’s in danger of losing the show to a crass, Dane Cook-style comedian, she realises Molly’s fresh perspective and passion may be necessary.
Emma Thompson devours Katherine’s Miranda Priestly-like tendencies, all vicious one-liners and withering looks, while the final act shows her ability to effortlessly tap into empathy and complexity. Kaling makes for an amiable foil, showing Molly’s earnestness, sensitivity and idealism – but also her smarts. As Molly starts to shake things up, there are canny observations about pop culture’s ageism, misogyny, racism and anti-intellectualism.
The arc of the various threads also suffer from the screenplay’s clumsiness – have days passed between scenes? Months? Who knows. Meanwhile, the tenderness of scenes depicting Katherine’s marriage to John Lithgow is undermined by jarringly abrupt scenes. A wisp-thin romantic subplot proves unnecessary and unfulfilling, pointing to Late Night’s central problem: it can’t quite pull off the balancing act of being a workplace comedy, a witty and pointed satire, and a cosy rom-com.