There’s a lot of late nights in “Late Night,” a comedy about talk show hosts. Late nights be damned, this film is undeniably woke. A humorously hyper-verbal and deeply genuine look at women finding their voice in a man’s world.
Its voice is its strong suit. Though finding ones voice might take more strength than any of us could have ever imagined. That’s where Mindy Kaling comes in. She plays Molly Patel, a sweet-spirited saint who finds herself working a job so banal Homer Simpson could do it. She works a chemical plant, and for awhile, the joke’s on her. Equidistant is Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson). Newbury is a household name, a legendary talk-show-host and an American Sweetheart. I should probably preface by saying that she WAS an American Sweetheart. Now she’s sweetless and heartless–everything Molly isn’t.
That’s why Molly gets the job writing comedy for her show. To bring life to a withering carcass. More specifically, to bring life to Newbury’s withering carcass. At one point she admits “I’m too old to even play The Mummy.” Still, that doesn’t stop Molly from joyously updating her image for the digital age.
That’s what Kaling has done with her screenwriting feature debut: resurrected the rom-com with IOS 12. It’s “The Devil Wears Prada” for the Twitter era. A haughty boss and an innocent protege bond over their differences. It’s also based on Kaling’s time as a writer on “The Office.” “That’s what she said” would literally only apply to her in a writers room full of white dudes. Now she has the chance to turn those wounds into wisdom.
It’s no spoiler to say she does. And does so with class. Her satire on the filthy subject of show business is remarkably clean. Albeit a little too clean for something hellbent on pushing the envelope. Furious with today’s bro-culture and indecency toward minorities, it seems more concerned with a throwaway joke than giving the audience a solution. Perhaps a little more “Network” and a little less “Prada” would have sharpened the satiric edge.
That said, when Molly is in a room as white as its writers, the jokes are funny enough to get an honest smile out of Jimmy Kimmel (for those who don’t know, that’s very high praise). She gives good advice, the pale writers with Harvard degrees are shocked she gives good advice, and Newbury unloads her criticism with British sass. That’s the venerable formula behind the comedy. Just as the sweetness of Kaling contrasting the sourness of Thompson is the venerable formula behind the mismatched friendship.
What they do have in common is an attachment with the show. Molly wants to interview YouTube stars, Newbury wants to interview the intellectuals. But they both don’t want the thing to get cancelled, and that’s enough to put their differences aside. It’s also enough for us to fall for the characters. They are stand-ups that stand up for what they believe. Their actions and their words speaking on equal levels. In arguing for diversity they have made a summer comedy that speaks to everyone.