© eOne/Fox

Late Night
U.S.A. 2019

Opening 29 Aug 2019

Directed by: Nisha Ganatra
Writing credits: Mindy Kaling
Principal actors: Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, John Lithgow, Hugh Dancy, Reid Scott

This female powered comedy-drama peels back layers to lambaste workplace hypocrisies. Director Nisha Ganatra, Mindy Kaling scriptwriter, and principal EmmaThompson are proficient in the fields of producing, writing, and acting. Late Night sheds some light on what it is like for women (and men) competing in male-dominated territory, where women walk a tighter rope, and cannot fight without wearing kid gloves.

Katherine Newbury (Thompson) is queen of late night television; besides being the only woman in this time slot, she blazed a trail with her show. So, when a ripple of warning comes from the network head (Amy Ryan), Katherine takes an aggressive stance. Supportive of his wife, Walter (Lithgow) is equally honest. Concurrently, Molly (Kaling), literally in the right place at the right time, gets the chance of a lifetime. Low ratings and criticism prompt a quick affirmative action fix, whereby Bob (Denis O'Hare) hires the novice to the all-male pool of comedy writers on Katherine’s staff. Molly gets a baptism of fire a propos behind the screen intrigues, subterfuge, and yet holds her own. Until one fateful day when Molly bravely honors her commitment, causing negligible repercussions. Nevertheless, hard won lessons are not to be easily deprived of.

Kaling’s script is terrific: fast, funny, smart, current, and unapologetically politically incorrect while maintaining a fine balance. That is delivered by great cast that includes Max Casella, Paul Walter Hauser, John Early, Luke Slattery, Ike Barinholtz, Marc Kudisch, cameos by Bill Maher, Seth Meyers, Annaleigh Ashford and et al. Anybody that has been to a live television show taping will appreciate Elizabeth J. Jones’ production design. Keeping pace are Lesley Barber’s music, Eleanor Infante and David Rogers’ editing, and Matthew Clark’s cinematography. Late Night is more than a scrutiny of media’s competitive pressures – it is about personal growth, learning to renegotiate prejudices and preconceptions, and developing empathy. (Marinell Haegelin)

Second Opinion

Late-night shows are a sacred institution in America ever since the glory days of Jack Paar and Johnny Carson. The film opens with very British late-night host Katherine Newbury (brilliantly played by Emma Thompson) graciously accepting her 43rd Emmy dazzling her adoring audience with charm and caustic wit. As the only successful female late-night host she has been doing her show for 28 years, though perhaps lately running on automatic pilot. That’s exactly what her boss thinks. Caroline (Amy Ryan) snarkily marches up to Katherine after the latest award ceremony smugly announcing it will be her last year hosting the show as the ratings are slipping and Katherine hasn’t kept up with the times.

Gobsmacked yet resolute, Katherine won’t go down without a fight and decides to confront her writing team who she has left on their own for years. So aloof and dismissive is she of the writers, she simply refers to them as numbers rather than bothering to learn their names. Indian-American Molly (Mindy Kaling) had just been employed in desperation as a token female/diversity hire even though her last job was as an efficiency expert from a chemical plant in Pennsylvania. Molly had simply applied for the writing job on a wing and a prayer as one of Katherine’s worshiping fans and an aspiring would-be standup comedian herself. Reality hits when Molly joins the writing team, is given a number, and finds the only available “chair” around the writer’s table is a wastepaper basket. Molly’s mission is to help turn to show around; eventually she breaks it to Katherine she is too old and too white…….

Like a late-night show this film is quickly paced with abundant sprinklings of witty one-liners which certainly keep the audience amused throughout. There is a moment of mirth: a heart-wrenching scene between Katherine and her husband Walter (John Lithgow), a cultivated emeritus NYU professor suffering from Parkinson’s disease. Unfortunately the DIVERSITY theme, though topical, becomes extremely tedious especially when the final scene at the network shows every third employee as a minority hire. Writer Mindy Kaling isn’t known for being subtle.

As a real late-night show aficionado I enjoyed seeing cameos of Bill Maher, Seth Meyers, and news reporter Jake Tapper. In the days of my youth I attended both a Jay Leno late-night show in Burbank and a Conan O’Brien late-night show in NYC. Now Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon are my rivaling favorites. Pioneer Joan Rivers could never make it as a female late-night host. Samantha Bee has the only late-night show currently on the air hosted by a woman. Indian-Canadian Lilly Singh will be on NBC in September for the late, late show at 1:35 in the morning, let’s see how that goes. Perhaps part of the appeal of Late Night is that the fictional Katherine Newbury succeeded almost three decades as a successful female late-night host….sometimes things happen only (or first) on the silver screen. (Pat Frickey)

Third Opinion

Late Night is an entertaining and clever comedy with serious undertones. We find ourselves chuckling and even outright laughing at some of the one-liners and amusing events, but underlying it all are two current and critically important main themes: diversity (race as well as gender) at the work place and finding ones identity. Nothing could be better to highlight and develop these topics than the convincing performances of Emma Thompson as Katheryn Newberry and Mindy Kaling, who wrote and co-produced the film, as Molly.

Katherine Newberry is the only woman, who has been able to break into the world of late-night show hosts. She is successful, egotistical, brusque without empathy and, after 28 years of hosting her own show, somewhat in a rut. In fact, when her network head tells her that the show’s ratings have been down the last ten years and that this is her final year, Katherine is dumbfounded, but determined to fight—something she has not done the last few years. But how can she change her show and perhaps more important, change even herself. Who has she become? Following her husband’s advice, “They can’t replace you if they love you”, she decides to make a “diversity hire” and then she meets with her all-men (white Ivy-League men) writers whom she has not even bothered to get to know. Paradoxically, even though Katherine is proud to be the only female late-night host, she has fired all her women employees. Therefore, her diversity hire is a woman of Indian decent named Molly. Except for her determination, Molly`s characteristics are the complete opposite of Katherine`s. She is likeable, a bit quirky and too eager to please but most important she knows who she is and is not afraid to be honest and say what she thinks. It takes Katherine some time to realize that Molly is the only one who can really help her and when she asks Molly what the problem is, she bluntly replies, “You are too old and too white.” From here on the fight begins, first separately, then together, to save the show and to find Katherine’s lost identity.

Late Night is excellently written, brilliantly acted, thought provoking and a show you will not want to miss. (Karen Schollemann)

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