Nisha Ganarra (director)
19 June 2019 (released)
19 June 2019
Even in 2019, women still haven't had much luck breaking into the U.S. late-night talk show landscape.
Chelsea Handler and Busy Philipps are among the only ladies to have had their own programmes in recent years, while YouTube star Lilly Singh is currently preparing to have a go.
So, it's interesting that writer/actress Mindy Kaling chose to delve into the gender politics and power dynamics in this male-dominated space with her latest project, Late Night.
Directed by Nisha Ganatra, the film kicks off with the audience meeting pioneering talk-show host Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson), who has managed to keep her programme running on the circuit for nearly 30 years.
However, when studio executive Caroline Morton (Amy Ryan) notices a plummet in the ratings, she accuses Katherine of being a "woman who hates women," and demands she step up her game or risk being replaced by Dane Cook-like comedian Daniel Tennant (Ike Barinholtz).
Enter Kaling's character Molly Patel, an idealistic Indian-American chemical plant efficiency expert from suburban Pennsylvania who has just moved to New York City, and is impulsively hired by producer Brad (Denis O'Hare) after Katherine decides she needs at least one woman on her all-white, all-male writing team.
Molly quickly shakes up the writers' room with her cutting jokes and intelligent insight into topical matters, and while the veteran TV presenter likes to keep her team on a tight leash, eventually agrees her format needs an overhaul.
Determined to prove she's not merely a tokenistic diversity hire, Molly works day and night, with her attempts to make the programme more contemporary and personal resonating with audiences.
Yet, Katherine is deeply suspicious of her Instagram-friendly ideas and talent sourced from YouTube. Some of the best dialogue in the flick stems from these biting exchanges.
Thompson relishes in portraying such a clever and complex character, and while she masters the host's stoic nature, she isn't afraid to show a vulnerable side in relation to topics like ageism, family, marriage and depression.
The Oscar winner takes centre stage throughout, and her conversations with her husband Walter Lovell (John Lithgow) are particularly memorable.
Kaling also bounces off Thompson's energy, delivering some genuine laughs, while simultaneously calling out sexism, misogyny, and entitlement left, right and centre.
Sure, it would have been good to see more of her relationship with co-workers, such as the suave Charlie Fain (Hugh Dancy) and work-obsessed Tom Campbell (Reid Scott), but Molly is at her best when she uses her underdog status to her advantage, like when she spontaneously steps up at a PR party to save Katherine from humiliation.
Late Night certainly abides by a formulaic narrative structure, but with its incisive social commentary and witty banter, manages to offer a charming workplace comedy worth staying up for.