Movie review: Late Night [Kaling]

Mindy Kaling also wrote the screenplay

Late Night - PosterBefore my wife and I saw the movie Late Night at the Spectrum 8 in Albany, I’d read a discouraging piece. Specifically, Why Romcoms are bombing, in which Ken Levine wrote:

I’ll be very honest here. I don’t like Mindy Kaling. I don’t find her funny in any way. That’s me. That said, if all I heard was buzz that this was a laugh riot and the one movie to see this summer I would race to the theatre. I’d be thrilled to change my position on Mindy Kaling. Instead, I’m hearing, “not funny,” “on the nose,” and “formula.” Pass.

Late Night is a romcom? It’s not what I viewed. The Rotten Tomatoes description: “Legendary late-night talk show host’s world is turned upside down when she hires her only female staff writer” – she had been accused of being a “woman who hates women.” “Her decision has unexpectedly hilarious consequences as the two women separated by culture and generation are united by their love of a biting punchline.”

I enjoyed Emma Thompson as the prickly perfectionist Katherine Newbury. the host would rather book the author Doris Kearns Goodwin than the latest YouTube star. Some have compared her to Meryl Streep’s character in The Devil Wears Prada. She can’t be bothered even to learn her writers’ names. But the ratings have been down for a decade, so change is necessary.

Kaling, who wrote the screenplay, plays “diversity hire” Molly Patel. At first, she’s in way over her head, but she eventually discovers how to be useful. It is the evolution of Katherine, with Molly as catalyst, that’s the driving force of the film.

The boys’ club nature of the writers’ room is also touched on, as Molly discovers why all the guys are using the women’s bathroom.

The movie’s always good when John Lithgow, as Katherine’s husband Walter Lovell, who is experiencing Parkinson’s disease, is on the screen. Perhaps the best scene in the movie involves Katerine and Walter in a theater.

I also enjoyed the performance of Kaling’s former The Office colleague Amy Ryan as Caroline, the network executive. Late Night also stars Denis O’Hare as put-upon Brad, the show runner; the writers Charlie (Hugh Dancy), Burditt (Max Casella), Tom (Reid Scott), and Mancuso (Paul Walter Hauser); and Ike Barinholtz as stand-up comedian Daniel Tennant.

I thought Late Night was a good, not great movie, the kind of film that gets 79% positive review on RT. It could have dropped a subplot or a character and still be coherent.

But I appreciated the issues it brought up and the acting. The penultimate shot was a bit “on the nose”, I suppose. There were comic moments; not a “laugh riot” but I don’t think that was the intent. It was worthwhile viewing.

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