Molly's Big Break: Late Night Essay
Molly Patel has worked and dreamed of finding success in entertainment. She does stand-up comedy when not at her lab job, and wants to put her creativity to better use. In Late Night, she gets the opportunity she’d always wanted to get. Molly (Mindy Kaling) has always been a big fan of talk show host Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson), who’s had a successful late night talk show for nearly three decades. Lately, though, Katherine has drawn criticism from network president Caroline Morton (Amy Ryan) and been informed her show has low ratings. In attempting to deal with these issues, Katherine hires Molly to the writing staff, giving her show its only female and non-white writer. While she does offer her analysis on the show’s problems and ways to improve, Molly learns that the jokes must come first. She also learns that the show must be her main focus, both day and night.
Katherine also takes the advice of a publicist and throws a party in her home, attended by show staff and others. While there, Molly meets Katherine’s ailing husband, Walter Lovell (John Lithgow), a retired college professor. Even though he’s stayed behind the scenes her career, he finds the illness has caused a put a strain on their marriage – as well as fodder for the media. The network, consequently, puts pressure on Katherine to step aside from her show, and even books Danny Tennant (Ike Barinholtz), the man they want to succeed her, as a guest.
Some have compared Late Night to the 2006 film The Devil Wears Prada – and with good reason. Both films feature influential women dealing with novices to their industries. Both sides get a lesson in these encounters. Here, Molly has to learn that the devotion to a TV series is more demanding than any 9-to-5 job, while Katherine has to learn to be more accessible to those who want to keep the show going. While Late Night, which Kaling also wrote (in her big screen writing debut), is perceived as a comedy, I think of it as more of a dramedy, especially in the moments when the ladies are away from the show and dealing with their relationships. In spite of its parallels to the film that starred Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway, I enjoyed Late Night as a pleasant but predictable look behind the scenes of a TV show and the issues women sometimes encounter to be in the business. Success is a constant, no matter how many awards a show such as Katherine’s gets.
Kaling and many of her co-stars are best known for their work on television, and do a fine job here. The actors better known for their work on the big screen, though, have the best moments. Thompson, the only performer who’s won an Oscar for acting (Howards End) and screenwriting (Sense And Sensibility), shines as the Miranda Priestly of the airwaves. Katherine is smart, yet distant. She doesn’t call her writers by name, assigning each of them a number. Even though she admits to making Molly a diversity hire, Katherine can be harsh with her. Newbury forgets that an evening show is a team effort, even as she knows the network wants an excuse to end her run. Lithgow elicits sympathy as Walter, the husband who worries more about his wife than his health. Ryan is solid in support as Morton, who finds herself frustrated with Katherine’s holier-than-thou attitude. Kaling brings an abundance of spunk to the role of Molly, who learns from setback as she learns to earn a place on the writing team as they fashion humor for Katherine’s personality. Barinholtz has a good moment or two as the crude, obnoxious Danny, who is everything Katherine is not. Real-life late night hosts Bill Maher and Seth Meyers make cameo appearances as themselves.
On the real life American TV scene, viewers cannot see anyone like Katherine Newbury – at least not at night. Samantha Bee comes closest, but she works just once a week. Late Night feels like a TV movie, providing more overview than insight. It is not very original, but it is nice to see a young writer learn what it’s like to be a pro, and a host learn to put up a good fight for a show that’s been so much a part of her life. This story seems to mirror Kaling’s real-life story. She has written for several TV shows, most notably for both The Office and The Mindy Project. She’s been effective at writing short pieces, but Late Night proves Kaling needs to hone those skills with regard to longer pieces. This movie is a respectable start.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Late Night three stars. Don’t send viewers to bed early.