TWO AND A HALF STARS Late Night is in a ratings free fall. Can Molly the intern save the show? You betcha!
Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling
Taking a leaf from both THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA and NINE TO FIVE, Mindy Kaling’s comedy LATE NIGHT plonks itself in the realm of the US TV mainstay, late night talk shows. Kaling cut her teeth on comedies like The Office and Champions then her own series, The Mindy Project.
As Molly Patel, she takes her ‘otherness’ - she’s a woman of colour in a white man’s world - and plonks herself in the writing pool of a failing late night chat show hosted by the formidable, multi- Emmy Award winning Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson). Katherine is terrifying, Molly is an inexperienced intern, a diversity-hire there to boost numbers (she’s not white, she’s not a man plus she’s free). She’s also the show’s Number One fan, in awe of its host and more than capable of telling the boys where they’ve gone wrong for so long. Katherine likes this honesty and soon Mindy is writing jokes for Late Night.
As amiable as all that is, there’s nothing challenging about LATE NIGHT mostly because Kaling isn’t willing (or able) to push her comedy near (much less over) the edge. PRADA hooked us because Streep’s vile behaviour was chillingly real; NINE TO FIVE’s female ensemble was shockingly daring. LATE NIGHT seems strangely coy for a film written about the entertainment industry in the #METOO era. It screams out for some, well, screaming from its female leads: Katherine is a frightening woman whose whole career is in free fall, Mindy is a diversity hire for goodness sake! Where’s the resentment, where’s the anger?!
Thus LATE NIGHT rides on the charm of its cast and Kaling is certainly easy to watch. Likewise Thompson who turns in yet another utterly charming performance (even when she’s swearing at her staff like an extra from a Scorcese movie). There are some nuanced points about the politics of race, gender and age in the story, but it’s far from a provocative observation about race, gender and age in the modern workforce. And that’s a shame, it would have been so easy to get there, and this would be a much better experience if it had. So if you do want to go there, re-check THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA, or NINE TO FIVE.