Late Night (2019) reviewed by Jonathan Berk

Late Night (2019) is directed by Nisha Ganatra and written by Mindy Kaling, who also co-stars in the film. The story focuses on Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson), who is the longest running time late-night talk show host who finds out that she is going to be replaced at the end of the season – but she’s unwilling to just give up her life’s work. In an effort to mix things up, she hires Molly Patel (Mindy Kaling) – who has no experience with comedy or TV – to write jokes for the show. The two both must change to survive in their current environment, and find a commonality between each other over time. 

Late Night worked for me in almost every regard

Thompson is a powerhouse in this film. Her character is cruel, and the first time we see Katherine with her writers, we learn that she doesn’t know any of them, most have never even met her, and – rather than learning their names – she numbers them. Yet, her relationship with her husband, Walter (John Lithgow), shows a bit of vulnerability early on, and softens her enough that we are on her side. Through the course of the film, the complexity of her character is unveiled, and if you’re on board with her, you’ll love this film as a much as I did. 

Of course, Kaling also gives a really strong performance in this film. Her experience as a writer is likely to fuel the story of her character’s journey working for Late Night. Molly is up against a boy’s club, all of which are afraid to lose their jobs, and are a little intimidated at the prospect of a non-writer showing them up. The most interesting rivalry is with Tom (Tom Campbell), the head monologue writer, who is constantly butting heads with Molly for a variety of reasons. Luckily, she finds some companions in the room, including Charlie (Hugh Dancy) and Burditt (Max Casella), who help ease her into the process. All around, the performances are solid and entertaining. 

Kaling tackles many topics, including sexism, racism, and ageism in the industry. None of them are deeply explored, but nevertheless, it gives the audience something to think about. The idea of diversity rings true for a variety of reasons, and Kaling’s script is able to balance these serious debates with a solid amount of humor. 

Final thoughts…

Late Night is a really solid summer comedy that is great counter-programming to all the blockbusters that are continuously disappointing. This film offers lots of ups and downs, but ultimately left me feeling really happy when it was time to leave the theater. I love movies about people pursuing their passions, despite the world telling them there is no point. Late Night earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.

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