Mindy Kaling and Emma Thompson in Late Night (Photo: Amazon Studios)
*** (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Nisha Ganatra
STARS Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling
Katherine Newberry (Emma Thompson) may have made history as the first female late-night talk-show host, but that doesn’t mean she’s untouchable. Refusing to pepper her opening monologues with anything remotely controversial and content to book distinguished guests (authors, politicians) rather than idiotic ones (the latest YouTube starlets), she learns that her ratings are in steady decline and she faces being kicked off her own show. Her likely replacement? A misogynistic, xenophobic clod (Ike Barinholtz), naturally.
Katherine also has been criticized for having a staff of writers comprised solely of white, heterosexual men. Balking at the suggestion that she hates women, she agrees to add a female to the ranks. The unlikely pick is Molly Patel (Mindy Kaling), who has no experience with writing or with comedy (she comes from a job at a Pennsylvania chemical plant).
Late Night has a premise that sounds iffy and opportunistic, and the skimming-the-surface trailer certainly did it no favors. Happily, the picture proves to be both intelligent and insightful, moving beyond the jokes (and they’re actually good ones) to address the issue of women in the workplace trenches. Kaling wrote the script, and she not only handed herself a plum role but made sure to spread the wealth. The show’s male writers aren’t portrayed as one mass blob but are instead individualized, leading to some choice vignettes as well as some unexpected reversals of character. Kaling saves her best material for Thompson, whose hard-nosed career woman initially only thaws in the presence of her ailing husband (a lovely turn by John Lithgow) but soon realizes that she can learn from others as well.
Warm and witty, Late Night is choice viewing no matter what time of day.