Review by Claire L. Smith
Written and co-produced by renowned comedy writer Mindy Kaling, “Late Night” produces a seriously funny female-driven narrative that clings to the audience well past the theatre lobby. Although unfortunately lacking in box office returns, the film still holds strong in its “Devil Wears Prada” feel, strong female characters and a firm grip on relevant topics facing women and minority groups.
The film centers around Emma Thompson’s Katherine Newbury, a multi-Emmy winning comedian and late-night show host who is faced with her inevitable replacement due to her show’s steady decline in ratings and fresh material. At her side is Molly Patel played by Mindy Kaling, an amateur comedy writer plucked from working at a chemical plant to work as a ‘diversity hire’ on Katherine’s writing team.
It’s plain to see that both women come from polarising backgrounds with equally separating personalities with Katherine a sharp, sour, older white woman and Molly a younger woman of color with an optimistic attitude and a fair amount of naivety. Yet, they also cannot be more similar.
They are both committed to their work and passions, they both suffer from depression, they are both assertive with a ‘never give up’ mentality and, as women in the television industry, they are both outsiders (although Molly more so than Katherine). At the end of the day, both women are struggling to cement their place in a culture that wants them gone, but it is only when they join forces, evening out each other’s weaknesses that they discover a way to reach their goals.
As a social-conscious comedy film, this is one of the narrative’s key messages. That women, regardless of their extreme differences, can find common ground and work together to benefit each other, rather than pushing each other down to try and benefit themselves alone. This being said neither Molly or Katherine are flawless or squeaky-clean characters, each has their own personality flaws, ignorance and each has a personal journey as well as a professional one.
“At the end of the day, both women are struggling to cement their place in a culture that wants them gone, but it is only when they join forces, evening out each other’s weaknesses that they discover a way to reach their goals.”
Molly, for example, is the definition of an outsider. She has no experience in a field of white men with no allies or level ground, she has only her passion for writing comedy and her determination to pursue her dreams despite the obstacles in her way. However, it is also her personal journey in finding her voice in a culture where she is rarely heard.
With Katherine, it is not only about her regaining control of her show and starting anew with her career, but also starting anew from within and becoming more in touch with modern times and with her own personal struggles and outlook on life., all the while developing into a more well-rounded individual.
Overall, Kaling writes both characters with incredible depth and care, making each woman a treasure to watch. Their mistakes are human, they are hilarious in their highs and well-developed at their lows. She gets across her messages well, such as poking fun at the ‘white saviour’ trope and the issue of the exclusively male world of entertainment writing – assumingly drawing from personal experience. With Kaling and Thompson’s raw and powerful acting, the film makes a timely and smart contribution to the discussion of such topics. To be blunt, the film has not received the credit that it’s due.
“Late Night is an overall fulfilling and hilarious tale about two modern women coming together despite their social and cultural differences.”
That being said, the film is certainly not perfect. The narrative was rather (although suitably) slow, which wasn’t a personal issue for me, but if one isn’t a fan of such narratives, commitment may be required. The relationship between Katherine and her ill but sweet husband, Walter could have also used more development to help fuel the impact of the resolution.
Yet, these issues seem like small blemishes on an overall fulfilling and hilarious tale about two modern women coming together despite their social and cultural differences, yet it’s evident that the film still maintains a large amount of respect for these issues despite its many laughs.