Mindy Kaling really knows how to put herself forward, writing and co-starring in the dramedy about ageism, sexism and the diversity card in the “Late Night” talk show host game. Directed by Nisha Ganatra, “Late Night” is about the only long-running late night talk show hosted by a woman, British ex-pat Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson), and how a diversity hire, Molly (Kaling), helps Newbury get hip and face the truths and scandals.
Newbury has gone stale and her ratings are on the downside. Her writers room is a sea of blindingly white privileged males and Newbury has a reputation for hating female writers. When her network is taken over by a female executive (Amy Ryan) ready to rattle things up for better ratings, she awakes for her stupor of staleness and hires a minority woman–Molly. Molly is her biggest fan and struck a deal to get from her job at a chemical plant to this writers room.
Desperate not to be replaced by the much younger inane Daniel Tennant (Ike Barinholtz), Newbury stirs things up and Molly adds the spice to the mix of male complacency in the writers room. In her attempts to be relevant, Newbury goes viral in the wrong way, but, of course, she will recover. She has to recover–her show is her life. She has no children. She married an older musician, Walter Newbury (John Lithgow), who left his wife for her but he now suffers from Parkinson’s.
The relationship between Walter and Katherine are the movie’s most tender moments and yet the surprise problem between them seems like emotional manipulation. There are other problems. Newbury’s “Late Night” exists in a TV world where Jon Stewart and his “The Daily Show” never made the air and Stephen Colbert and The Colbert Report didn’t exist. The problem we’re presented with is that Newbury wants to be intellectual–speak with writers and not social media influencers. Yet “The Daily Show” has shown that authors and political figures can be captivating, informative and even funny.
If there is a genre for the black savior, one where Eddie Murphy’s Axel Foley holds court, then Kaling’s Molly is that for Newbury. Younger, hipper and pushy in a good way, Molly bumbles but also feels the desperation to succeed. Like Newbury, Molly has no children, no sweetheart and no life. We know that her father died, but we don’t see her with a network of friends. Certainly that makes writing about Molly easier, but it also rings false.
There will be a happy ending and on the way, Emma Thompson’s Newbury has some biting lines and Molly will, after making a wrong turn, find a potential directions toward romantic happiness.