Late Night rivals The Mustang as my favorite film through the first half of 2019.
This is a brilliant film on multiple levels that you have to find a way to hunt down in the theatre. Beginning with a widely inventive script by Mindy Kaling, this is a movie that has Oscar consideration written all over it.
The movie’s Oscar challenging performances begin with Emma Thompson, here playing Katherine Newbury, a late-night talk show host. Ms. Thompson is fabulous as a TV hostess who finds herself losing her ratings both on and off screen. Her lack of contact with the real world is reflected by the fact that she doesn’t remember the names of most of the scriptwriters working for her. As an example of her mendacity, she fires a young man who is late for a meeting as she caustically diminishes his need to be with a sick child as an excuse that means nothing to her.
Given that she has an all-male script writing crew, Ms. Newbury is asked to hire a female writer to hopefully save her job. This is where Mindy Kaling enters the picture as Molly Patel, a single woman who leaves a factory job to enter a TV environment that leaves her feeling like an alien from another plant.
Ms. Kaling’s role as Molly is heartwarming at every turn, and she gradually helps her boss enliven her show with a satirical warmth that was previously missing. This includes providing a bridge over a marital canyon that has gradually put a distance between Newberry and her husband Walter.
One of the great things about this film is the fine performances of a collection of other actors in supporting roles. In that regard, I can’t help but believe that this film will win the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture. That begins with the role of the talented John Lithgow as Newberry’s husband, a former college professor confined to their condo given his advanced Parkinson’s disease.
The screenwriters constantly struggle to preserve their jobs under the leadership of a boss who resembles the evil queen in Sleeping Beauty. Hugh Dancy, Reid Scott, Dennis O’Hare, Max Kassela, Paul Walter Hauser and John Early form a writing team who have learned to prosper despite spending years in a working environment filled with misery. Though it takes a while, Ms. Kaling gradually earns their respect, and this is one of the many reasons that make this film a fantastic cinematic experience.
Yet before closing, I can’t overlook the valuable contribution of Amy Ryan, here playing Caroline Morton, the studio boss of Ms. Thompson. The two of them redefine the role of women in films of this nature, playing smart, aggressive combatants who you feel are the recreation of dueling adversaries in armor and on horseback from the Middle Ages.
Though men will like this movie as much as women, Ms. Kaling’s script places women in dominating roles customarily reserved for men. Her creative ingenuity saves this film from idiotic lines where Jennifer Lawrence moans that X-Men should be renamed X-Women in Dark Phoenix and Chris Hemsworth smilingly tells Tessa Thompson in the recent Men In Black film that it should be known as Women In Black. Ms. Kaling does not need meaningless references to elevate the role of female actors, and it makes Late Night an appealing experience.