“A late night talk show host suspects that she may soon lose her long-running show.”

Director: Nisha Ganatra
Writer: Mindy Kaling
Staring: Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, John Lithgow, Hugh Dancy, Reid Scott
Release Date: June 14, 2019

I had Late Night (2019) in my Amazon Prime queue since it came out in June of 2019. I kept on putting it off. I think my girlfriend watched it and like it before I even considered touched it.

With all that being said….I made a mistake. Late Night is a surprisingly modern comedy that manages to toe the line between cringe over-obvious social commentary with clever subtlety. Emma Thompson is really good in the lead role. Mindy Kaling plays the fun part but shines most in her writing ability. Late Night also has a great writers room vibe; it may not be realistic at all, but is damn entertaining.

Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson) is a comedy icon with a long running late night show. While she is surrounded by her awards and fame, she has isolated herself from the world. When she is told by network executive Caroline Morton (Amy Ryan) that her show is being cancelled, it forces a hard look in a mirror that’s been covered by a blanket of ego for over a decade.

Enter the dust-buster Molly Patel (Mindy Kaling). The out-spoken diversity hire joins the writers room and begins to push the boundaries of what she can and should say. Molly has joined the team at a very tumultuous time and she does her best to roll with the punches and throw some haymakers of her own. Her brashness catches the eye of Katherine, and soon there is a unique relationship developed between the old staple and new blood.

Katherine and Molly are leading the charge in creating a more interesting show, but all progress is halted when personal back page scandals about Katherine emerges. The once shelled off host returns to her turtle tendencies and begins shutting everyone out who she was learning to trust. This includes Molly.

But it wouldn’t be a comfortably predictable movie unless there was a reconciling and forgiving ending. Katherine backs back to Molly and acknowledges need she has for her. Molly discovers her independence and is able to bring that same unique viewpoint but with less aggressive forcefulness. Will the tandem have enough time to save Katherine’s show from the Network and from the scandal?

*cue 6 o’clock news segway* – Tune into Late Night to find out.

The best aspect of Late Night is how it tackles a lot of modern trends. Late night shows are dying. Late night shows are now more popular if they have the video bits and short viral clips. Writers rooms have been encouraged to be more diverse and encourage different ideas. Late Night also tackled the “Me Too” movement in terms of employment rights and work life environment. Overall it also touched on how edgy comedy is dying and how the risks of doing new things and saying controversial ideas can get people in hot water.

Emma Thompson is great at playing the bad guy. She has IT. Whatever IT is. Late Night is like an elementary school bad guy compared to what she hams up in Cruella (2021), but still the same charisma applies. In Late Night she gets to show more than just pure campy evil. She has to have some serious conversations with her husband Walter (John Lithgow) and in those moments she is her most vulnerable because she can”t hide behind the visage of confidence. Thompson tells the story well and knows how to hit the beats of a feel-good comedy.

Mindy Kaling has only written on major motion picture, and that is Late Night. I think there is little doubt that Kaling has a knack for the comedy written word. She has written for numerous television shows that have gotten well praised: Never Have I Ever, The Sex Lives Of College Girls, and Four Weddings And A Funeral. Kaling puts the women front and center and she does it without punching the audience in the face with RESPECT ME talk. I will be the first to admit that those television shows didn’t grasp my attention at first. But that is perfectly fine. In fact, that is good. Kaling is writing for herself and for people she resonates with. She isn’t thinking about the masses, but rather what it will say about her and people about her.

I mentioned at the top that the writing room banter in Late Night is strong, and that has to come from Kaling being in so many different rooms herself. She probably had numerous fish-out-of-water moments entering a room of comedic people, and so the brash “think differently” mentality that Molly has in Late Night has to be centered around a time where Mindy herself was in the characters shoes.

Most excitedly, Mindy is penning Legally Blonde 3, which makes me ecstatic. You give Reese Witherspoon a chance to redeem Legally Blonde 2 (2003).

It is better to be late to a good surprise than to never to have experienced it at all. Late Night is a quintessential better-than-it-ought to be comedy. The movie brings a bunch of good small puzzle pieces together to create a picture of satisfaction. Much like a puzzle, you can see what the final product is going to be, but soon enough you’ll find yourself sucked into the journey and looking forward to the smile-inducing finish.

STANKO RATING: B- (3.5/5 Stars)

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