Sundance: Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling in "Late Night" 
Saturday, January 26, 2019 at 12:00PM
Murtada Elfadl in Amazon, Emma Thompson, Late Night, Mindy Kaling, Reviews, Sundance, TV, film festivals

The Film Experience has two contributors at Sundance this year, Murtada and Abe. Here's Murtada's first missive, on a film that's currently closing a record Sundance deal with Amazon -Editor.

by Murtada Elfadl

Emma Thompson plays legendary late night talk show host Katherine Newbery (think Letterman, 2 decades younger, English and a woman but just as famous and revered and still on TV) in the new comedy Late Night. Early in the film Newbery meets a male employee from the writers room who is asking for a raise because he recently had a baby. In two minutes Thompson eviscerates him, and all of the decades of sexism and inequality in the workplace. She likens having babies to having a drug problem that one can’t shake. The latter is an unexpected and illogical simile until, that is, you hear it coming out of Thompson’s mouth. The writing’s funny and sharp, and Thompson is on full throttle hilarious commitment. Late Night has a few more of these golden moments, but also a few that are clichéd...

Written by Mindy Kaling and directed by Nisha Ganatra (who previously directed episodes of Dear White People, Fresh Off the Boat and The Last Man on Earth) the setting and story are quite familiar. We’ve seen this sort of New York City workplace romantic comedy multiple times before. Think The Devil Wears Prada or Maid in Manhattan. A scrappy younger person (in this case Kaling) clashes with their boss (Thompson), both learning a few lessons before they up loving and respecting each other. Kaling is Molly Patel who is hired as a writer into Newberry's 100% white male writers’ room to smooth over diversity concerns. Of course she's the only writer who can pinpoint why the ratings are declining and helps Newberry craft a new winning persona. There is romance (Reid Scott and Hugh Dancy play two of the writers Molly clashes with / likes). It's also fast paced with funny jokes and a few really heartfelt moments, the kind of film that's easily lapped up by the audience. Especially if you are a fan of the two leading ladies.

Mindy Kaling and director Nisha Ganatra at the premiereSome of the jokes are unfortunately obvious. The first time Molly is introduced to her new colleagues, they all think she’s a lowly production assistant because she's a woman of color. There are many jokes about that. Some of them, though, are sharp and produce guffaws while providing acute cultural commentary. As expected, coming from Kaling, the pop culture jokes are spot on. Anytime the movie relies on Kaling’s physical comedy it hits gold and Kaling makes for a lovely rom-com lead. She makes her earnest persona the joke and it’s a funny one. Not easy to pull off, but she does. Kaling’s matched well by Thompson who can mine comedy out of even the most banal lines through her expert delivery. Of course she can -- when has Thompson ever not been great?

In truth, I found it surprising that this film premiered at Sundance. It’s the sort of polished studio comedy that usually gets released in August and scores box office gold as counterprogramming to all the superhero movies. I expect this sort of success story to be in Late Night’s near future.


Other Sundance 2019 Reviews


Article originally appeared on The Film Experience (
See website for complete article licensing information.