By: Kitty Cheung, Staff Writer
Coming from modern-day rom-com queen Mindy Kaling, Late Night is a sincere ode to women in comedy. Working as both screenwriter and actor on the film, Kaling stars alongside Emma Thompson in this showbusiness dramedy. Thompson plays Katherine Newbury, a witty and sharp-tongued late-night talk show host who, as the first woman to host her own show, is seen as a pioneer in entertainment.
After being called a “woman who hates women“, Newbury hires Molly Patel (played by Mindy Kaling), an Indian-American novice comedy writer, to join the all-male writers’ room of her show. Going from working at a chemical plant to writing on the show of her comedy hero, Patel is living out her dream. The film follows her story as she realizes the reality of the late-night entertainment industry, struggling under Newbury’s critical eye but developing as a writer.
Patel’s naive but earnest enthusiasm for her job makes for many endearingly embarrassing moments, like being hit in the face with a trash bag after reflecting that “this is [her] dream.” In trying to prove herself in a (white) man’s world, she remains humble and grounded, offering fresh ideas and strong support for Newbury.
The failures and successes of Newbury’s show are also a main driving force in the plot. Thompson’s performance as Newbury is especially notable for her razor-sharp delivery of quips and callous professionalism, achieving a character who is both shockingly severe and hilariously quick-witted. She is also able to show vulnerability in Newbury’s complex character, particularly with how the celebrity struggles to shield her personal life from public scrutiny.
As an extremely biased and avid fan of Kaling’s work, I was admittedly disappointed in the casting of this film. Despite Late Night’s clear message of promoting diversity in entertainment, I found that the film itself didn’t quite adhere to this value. Aside from Patel and her character’s family, most of the people of colour cast in Late Night were given roles as extras.
If Kaling is advocating for more minorities to possess creative power in show business, the film could have benefitted from giving more voice to minority characters. Aside from these casting decisions, I was glad that there were POC in notable creative roles offscreen, such as Nisha Ganatra as the director and, of course, Kaling herself as the screenwriter.
Overall, Late Night is a hilarious and heartwarming comedy with strong feminist tones. This film is filled with tongue-in-cheek social commentary on the entertainment industry polished by Kaling’s sincere and comedic storytelling. While its message of diversity could have been strengthened by better-developed characters written for minority actors, Molly Patel shines through with her unique talent and voice.