In terms of movies set in the world of late-night TV my absolute favorite has always been Martin Scorsese’s darkly funny The King of Comedy, which starred a warped would-be comic Robert De Niro kidnapping a talk-show host played to the hilt by Jerry Lewis. Of course, on television nothing could ever top Garry Shandling’s acidic HBO classic series The Larry Sanders Show, so why try? But now Mindy Kaling has a wry and funny new take on the subject in her terrific new movie comedy Late Night, which I highly recommend as a smart adult alternative in a superhero-obsessed summer season. Seek it out.
A key reason as to why it works as well as it does, in addition to Kaling’s sparkling script, is the incomparable Emma Thompson here at the top of her form as veteran late-night talk-show host Katherine Newbury, the rare woman in the job whose office is loaded with Emmys and evidence of a long career at the top of this particular game. However, the pressure is on since her ratings are in the dumps and she is in denial, still preferring to book guests who don’t bring in the numbers. Looming in the background unbeknownst to her is a possible network plan to replace her with a younger, hotter talk jock played perfectly by Ike Barinholtz.
A professed feminist, Katherine also seems blind to the fact she has no women on her sullen writing staff. That changes with the addition of a woman of Indian descent, Molly Patel (Kaling), who has absolutely no experience in this kind of job but fits the right diversity chords. Basically ignoring her at first, Katherine eventually manages to bond with the new hire, who after a few stumbles — and resistance, of course, from the disgruntled guys in the room — starts to come up with some bright ideas.
The story revolves around Katherine and Molly’s emerging relationship, slyly tackling issues of women making their way in a male-dominated environment for the most part. It takes detours into Katherine’s personal life with her Parkinson’s-afflicted husband (very nicely played by John Lithgow) and an emerging “scandal” involving a past minor dalliance that goes viral and causes heartache all around. That threatens the sharp focus on the workplace in Kaling’s script, but it doesn’t intrude to the point of throwing anything off balance — Kaling is too smart a writer for that, and Nisha Ganatra too savvy a director to lose the tone. With Thompson, in a bravura turn, at the center, what could go wrong? And nothing does.
Iis also admirable Kaling lets Thompson run with the meatier role, but still invests Molly with a likable and highly relatable personality that has us rooting for her all the way. Hugh Dancy and Reid Scott are among the supporting cast who land some sharp moments themselves.
The movie had its world premiere at Sundance and was instantly snapped up by Amazon, which releases it in limited play Friday, followed by a wide release the following week. Producers are Jillian Apfelbaum, Ben Browning, Howard Klein and Kaling.
Check out my video review above that includes scenes from the movie.
Do you plan to see Late Night? Let us know what you think.
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