Legendary school-skipper, the one and only Ferris Bueller, once said: “‘Isms’, in my opinion, are not good.” Late Night, a comedy directed by Nisha Ganatra, is packed with them.
Sexism, ageism, racism… if you’ve experienced any form of prejudice in the workplace, there’s a good chance it gets at least a nod in this screenplay penned by Mindy Kaling, who also stars in the film alongside (unofficial British royalty) Emma Thompson.
Thompson plays Katherine, who is a fifty-something TV talk-show host who’s been on the air for almost thirty years, but losing currency for the last ten. Having chosen “excellence” over embryos, the only two things she cares about are her Parkinson’s- affected husband Walter (John Lithgow) and her job.
Due to suffering ratings, though, she’s about to lose the latter.
Katherine’s stale writing staff, most of whom she’s never met, is a mostly white-wash of straight men. When Katherine is called out for her public feminist attitude but low tolerance of female employees, she demands her right-hand-man, Brad, (Denis O’Hare) hire a woman.
Kaling’s character, Molly, has no experience, but as both a female and a person of colour fits the bill, and she’s hired to help enliven the show again.
Kaling (whose writing credits include numerous episodes of The Office and The Mindy Project) has drawn on her own experiences to create both female leads in Late Night.
She vividly remembers, and portrays through Molly, the awkwardness of being the only woman in a room full of male writers working on The Office and the double-edged nature of feeling like a “diversity hire”, where you’re seen as not being worthy of the job, even in circumstances where you’ve had to work exponentially harder than non-minorities to be seen at all.
More recently, Kaling has admitted to feeling impatient and getting complacent with her comedy, qualities that are written into the character of Katherine.
Both actresses are brilliant in their respective sharp, funny, feminist roles and the supporting cast will keep you laughing throughout the film.
Late Night’s simple premise could easily have been the bones of a predictable and boring film, but it’s the stories within the story that make it memorable.
The writing takes on a shopping list of Hollywood and real-world issues. In its sights are the double standards that exist in both la la land and your average workplace, reverse sexism, the difficulties minorities face in finding their way to the top and the delicate balance of holding power if they find their way there.
And while some of the film’s messages are as obvious to spot as the HOLLYWOOD sign itself, there are a number of others that are delivered more subtly, but to great effect- like normalising mental health disorders by talking openly about them or choosing an unconventional life path and being proud of those choices.
Late Night is a brainy film with plenty of jokes and a heap of heart. The writing is a little uneven, perhaps trying to do too much. It comes off corny at times but is, for the most part, genuine and thought-provoking in between being laugh-out-loud funny.
It should be lauded for how it boldly tackles subject matter that many seasoned writers and directors would shy away from, while never forgetting that audiences came for comedy.
The film reiterates Ferris Bueller’s view that “A person should not believe in an ism, he should believe in himself.”- but to receive this message from a woman of colour is an empowering twist.
SEE IT if…
You like Emma Thompson
You’ve experienced prejudice of any kind
SKIP IT if…
You don’t like The Mindy Project
You’re a chauvinist
It gets 4 stars out of 5.
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