Late Night (***1/2) is the new talent becoming a skill

Late Night – 2019

Director Nisha Ganatra
Screenplay Mindy Kaling
Starring Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, Max Casella, Hugh Dancy, John Lithgow, Denis O’Hare, Reid Scott, Amy Ryan, Ike Barinholtz

We’re well past the stage of presenting Mindy Kaling as an “up and comer” in Hollywood. She is quite literally one of the major reasons that The Office is the show that it became. As a writer and producer, she helped to elevate the show from Steve Carrell and a bunch of extras to the best ensemble in TV History. She knows how to present many authentic, melting pot, American voices. Then she did the same thing on The Mindy Project. She doesn’t create foolish characters. She doesn’t create obvious bad guys. She presents people at their most mediocre, striving to become slightly above average. And funnier than hell.

Late Night would be average faire in the hands of someone less than Kaling. The story is about a middling late night host named Katherine Newbury (Thompson) who is burned out, just like her writing staff and her fan base. Her dwindling ratings have her on the fast track to being replaced by a pig of a young comedian (Barinholtz) by her studio boss (Ryan). After being informed that she’s not diverse enough, she hires a woman for her writing staff.

That person ends up being Molly Patel (Kaling). Her gifts are muted at first, as she’s given the name, Number 8 by Newbury. The evolution of the team is not as one would think. Kaling takes a few left turns. She zigs instead of zagging. We move in the same direction, but don’t end up in exactly the same place or way we’re used to arriving.

Thompson navigates the terrain adeptly. Her shift from deliberate stiff to one who learns to use her natural comic gifts feels like they were her own lines, but Kaling wrote them. As usual in a Kaling production, the supporting cast is superb, and not wasted as caricatures.

This is above average in execution, even if its not them most original story. Kaling is bordering on too old to play the young energetic kid on the rise, but her whole skil is in selling it all in an organic way, and she sure does that.

This film would is better than anything of it’s kind in the ’80’s and it’s better than most comedies in the last decade. It’s just not a high bar.

I don’t know much about Ganatra. She worked with Kaling for an episode of The Mindy Project, and it feels as good as anything else on that show. I am sure that someone else would mention something else about the director’s race, gender and sexual orientation. Kaling wouldn’t though. She would just hire her if she could do the job of translating her great sense of humor to the screen.

(***1/2 out of *****)

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