I eagerly waited for Late Night to come out. The trailers were a hoot. The premise delightful. It utilized every trope I love: women coming together, underdog who succeeds, girl who shows the boys she’s better. Yet, while there are some glorious and funny moments in the film, ultimately it fell flat at the end, the point it matters most.
Late Night is about a young Indian woman, played by Mindy Kaling, who becomes the minority hire on an all white, all male writers team for the queen of late night, played by Emma Thompson. The show is failing, Thompson soon to be replaced, and things need to be done differently. Kaling comes in and saves the day with unflinching frankness about what is and what isn’t working on the show, turning Thompson and her career around, and enlightening her to the importance of multiculturalism at the same time.
The problem, everything is so pat. Nothing is delved into and Kaling comes off as a self-assured, very lucky, wannabe who falls into a dream job. Her background telling the occasional joke at her job at the chemical plant where she works, and even the stint as an emcee at a really small charity show, don’t make us feel as if she’s working for her chance. In fact, the charity show is for lung cancer, the disease that killed her father, and we don’t see any emotionality or connection that makes this event seem worth her convictions. When Thompson’s character insists she miss the show and keep working on the next day’s monologue, Kaling refuses to back down from a commitment based merely on Thompson’s whim. Responsibility and professionalism she has in buckets, pathos, sadly no.
We are no longer a naive audience that thinks jokes sally forth spontaneously during a comic’s performance. Instead, multiple movies about comics such as the fearless Punchline with Tom Hanks and Sally Field, or Late Shift about the battle between Leno and Letterman for the Tonight Show, or TV shows such as The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, have all taught us how difficult comedy is as career — both to do it right and to succeed.
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