★★★★ | Zach Hester
It’s always nice when writers can base a story around their own experiences. It’s not that screenwriter (and star) Mindy Kaling used to work as the only female and non-white writer on a late-night show, but that was her case with NBC’s The Office. This experience, coupled with the dream of a world where the most beloved figure in late night television is actually a woman and not a man, brings about one of the funniest movies of 2019 so far.
Late Night follows the path of two very different characters: one starting out her journey in show business and another who seems to be at the end of her career in it. Emma Thompson stars as Katherine Newbury, the overbearing, brutally honest host of the long-running late night talk show TONIGHT with Katherine Newbury, while Mindy Kaling, also in the role of screenwriter here, stars as Molly Patel, a chemical plant (not factory) worker turned comedy writer who joins Newbury’s staff after it’s publicized that the current staff includes no female writers.
The chemistry between these two women, one entering her prime and one struggling to maintain it, is great. It’s like being in a romantic comedy, except here the romance is just a dynamic friendship and student-(very harsh)teacher relationship.
Thompson is in rare form as always. She provides a subtle, sometimes flat out mean, character who’s own struggle as a slowly fading superstar comes across as genuine. Over the course of the film’s relatively short runtime, we see Newbury come out of the past she seems stuck in and experience a new world of horizons, including the #MeToo movement and the place she fears to tread the most, Twitter.
If nothing else, Late Night provides a burst of comedy that’s needed during this summer packed with action-heavy blockbusters. It’s a small movie with a big story about show business and those involved in its creation. It’ll also make you yearn for a woman to host a network late-night show, which is something that is beyond overdue.