Review: Late Night

Mindy Kaling’s first swing at film writing and production hit theatres this weekend in Late Night. Probably best known for her 9-year role as Kelly Kapoor in The Office, Kaling hasn’t quite branched out into the direct spotlight but is still well known by fans, specifically those of her tv show The Mindy Project (very funny) which ran for 6 seasons. She has also been cast in several films since her 2005 start, more recently including Inside Out, Ocean’s 8, and A Wrinkle In Time. I think she’s hilarious and likely has a promising career ahead of her, and while I did enjoy the comedy that Late Night provided, I don’t think it was a home run…maybe more like a ground rule double? It looked like a good swing but just sort of bounces into B+ territory.
Kaling stars alongside beloved English actress Emma Thompson (Love Actually, Nanny McPhee, 2017’s live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast, and Harry Potter‘s Professor Sybil Trelawny among many others) in a workplace comedy that focuses on a failing late night talk-show hosted by Katherine Newberry (Thompson). Looking to invigorate the show among falling ratings, Molly Patel (Kaling) is hired to the writing staff as the only female in the office other than Newberry herself, hoping that she can bring new perspective. As the team works to keep the show on air and Newberry as host, Patel sets out to prove that she’s useful and more than just a diversity hire.
For a comedy, even the synopsis seems a little bland, doesn’t it? Maybe this was part of the problem, but I was trying to think of why I just didn’t enjoy the movie as much as I expected to (being a Mindy fan myself) and I think it comes down to feeling like the movie was a bit forced. There were many times throughout the film when it seemed like they pushed forward a decision without much reason. Some of them you just have to accept as unlikely coincidence in order for the movie to work, like Patel being the only female to apply for a tv writing position in 2019. Sure, okay. But if you watch this movie, there are obvious other choices that really should have had more behind them in order to make sense. Another problem that I think the movie had was that Kaling’s character, although providing great chemistry with Thompson on screen, was somewhat dry. Again, the attempts at rounding the character were squeezed into just a couple conversations, and I really expected Kaling to go further with her comedic capabilities. She actually paled next to Thompson, who delivers a very funny performance, which isn’t a terrible occurrence in any way but again wasn’t expected.
A movie that some have started to compare this to is The Devil Wears Prada, a 2006 comedy hit that made almost 10x it’s budget during it’s theatrical run and to this day remains my wife’s favorite film 🙂 Alike in many ways, it starred Anne Hathaway and Meryl Streep in very similar character roles and dynamics to Kaling and Thompson. Both Hathaway and Kaling are hired on a whim to bring diversity into the workplace. Both are initially cut down by both their boss and other staff for not pulling their weight. And neither of them really fit into the line of work that demands their time and attention. At the same time, both Streep and Thompson portray somewhat abrasive, strong-willed women in powerful positions. Both are embarrassed by family problems and tend to keep their work and private lives separate. And neither of them have great friendships, but still expect the best from those closest to them. There are always movies that seem familiar to one another, and while it does appear as if these two share a lot in common, at a deeper level they are also quite different (more than just television vs. fashion). For instance, The Devil Wears Prada is told more from Hathaway’s perspective and Late Night focuses more on the perspective of Thompson. In the latter, viewers will likely want to root for the boss rather than root against her or simply tolerate her existence. Thompson is much more outwardly emotional of a character than Streep, and is not heavily based on a real-life person. Kaling’s character is unwilling to give up her life outside of work just to fit the mold, while Hathaway’s character drops everything for a chance at her job. And finally, Late Night is much more explicitly about equality for women and minorities. If you think of any more comparisons between the two, leave a comment below!
This is still a decent comedy but is probably worth more of a Redbox rental than a movie ticket. It also doesn’t quite measure up to the status of other Amazon Studios productions from recent years, including Manchester by the Sea (2016), The Big Sick (2017), and You Were Never Really Here (2018), and it looks to only make roughly $7 million during it’s opening weekend…which is not great. I’m not going to recommend this one as a must-see, but if you have a free evening and want a few good laughs then check out Late Night. Cheers!

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