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Late Night


A legendary late-night talk show host’s world is turned upside down when she hires her only female staff writer. Originally intended to smooth over diversity concerns, her decision has unexpectedly hilarious consequences as the two women separated by culture and generation are united by their love of a biting punchline.

"In TV show-host terms, Late Night is more Jimmy Fallon than Samantha Bee. This Sundance 2019 smash seeks to amuse rather than fire up its mainstream audience, to zing rather than sting. It largely succeeds. Zeitgeistful riffage propels director Nisha Ganatra’s satire, which writer/co-star Mindy Kaling spins from memories as the only female writer for TV’s The Office. The best bits are not so much the sitcom-ish moments in the writers’ room where Kaling’s “diversity hire” Molly Patel confronts the pale and porcine men who surround her. They assume she’s a secretary; she’ll soon #TimesUp them of that notion. The most engaging humour comes from Kaling’s brilliant pairing with Emma Thompson’s Katherine Newbury, a tyrannical talk-show host, for idealist-vs.-cynic yuks. Expectations are upended and the characters really get interesting.

Quick with a quip but eager for intellectual discourse, Katherine is like a cross between Joan Rivers and Dick Cavett. She’d sooner book a guest like Lincoln biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin than a Hollywood star. She talks down to her audience with faux humility: “I hope I earned the privilege of your time,” she says by way of goodnight. Katherine’s instincts have served her well for decades, as a mantelful of Emmys attest, but her ratings have alarmingly started to slide, as her station boss (Amy Ryan) is quick to note. If Katherine doesn’t up her game — is it possible she doesn’t like women? — she might lose her show to an ambitious backslapping buffoon (Ike Barinholtz).

Reluctantly accepting the reality that her all-male writing team isn’t helping, Katherine takes a chance on Molly, a worker in a Pennsylvania chemical factory who yearns to be a standup comedian. Molly actually really likes Katherine’s show, which is a change from the norm for this kind of setup. But she has some advice to assist her new boss in connecting with common folk. Social media and woman-in-the-street segments will help, Molly argues. Most of all, though, Katherine just has to be her caustically honest self. Katherine, needless to say, doesn’t meekly buy into Molly’s advice, or her observation that she’s “a little old and a little white.” Katherine is used to abusing her staff — she absurdly calls her writers by numbers rather than their names, which she can’t be bothered learning. Gender and race hardly matter; everything looks like a nail to a hammer. 

But Katherine and Molly come to realize they have more in common than not, as women fighting to gain and maintain footholds in two patriarchal realms: the world of comedy and the world at large." - Peter Howell, Toronto Star

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Directed by: 
Nisha Ganatra
Running Time: 
Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, John Lithgow
Screenplay by: 
Mindy Kaling

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