Hollywood has an English problem. Daniel Day-Lewis portrayed U.S. President Abraham Lincoln. Damian Lewis, also a Brit, took on a leading role in the U.S. military drama, "Band of Brothers." Englishman Rupert Friend is an American agent in "Homeland." London native Tom Hardy was a boxer from Pittsburgh in "Warrior." And everyone remembers Christian Bale as a Wall Street junkie in "American Psycho…" or Bruce Wayne/The Caped Crusader in Christopher Nolan’s "Batman" trilogy.
Then there’s Emma Thompson, who, at the beginning of "Late Night," jokes a Brit is being awarded for her work as an American comedian. Thompson is Katherine Newbury, the only woman on the late-night talk show circuit. She’s won multiple Emmys and is a household name, but ratings are down and the network wants to replace her. Jokes are stale, guests are dry and the writer’s room is filled has as much diversity as the Second Continental Congressional meeting at Independence Hall on July 4, 1776 – which is to say it had none.
Newbury’s days are numbered. Superfan-turned-writer Molly Patel (Mindy Kaling) leaves Small Town USA and comes to the Big Apple to save the day. Can the wide-eyed girl with a community college education and a factory job in Central Pennsylvania come up with a silver bullet to save Newbury’s show? Director Nisha Ganatra explores the tale’s answers through the lens of diversity, masculinity, privilege, slut-shaming, sexism and the #MeToo movement.
"Late Night" doesn’t hold back many punches in positioning itself as a discourse on women empowerment. Ganatra – along with Kaling and Thompson – explores the many issues confronting women in the United States, be it the continuous debate of whether or not a woman’s control of her body should be legislated to demeaning views of women in the workplace to hypocrisy in how we react to the culprit of sexual affairs. The film helmed by an Indian American female and presented by Amazon Studios does a fine job R-rated comedy is the latest women-centric film to tackle sexism, privilege, diversity and #MeToo movement.of being equal parts witty, charming, thought provoking, funny and social lens.
Thompson is her usual Oscar-winning self, selling herself to the moviegoing audience as an arrogant but self-hating seeker of excellence who pays no mind of who she harms along the way. Katherine believes – whether such belief is delusional or justified – she is the best of the best, forever immune to the whims of the masses. Only the most vulnerable of life moments can make her see beyond herself and begin to embrace those support the late-night show host unconditionally.
Kaling, meanwhile, is a slam dunk in her optimistic, relatable role as a small-town girl with big city dreams. Molly’s innocence is on display immediately, and while the Big Apple jades her in more ways than one, the factory-worker-turned-late-night-television-show-writer manages to come of age without losing the traits that made her so easy to root for in the first place.
Solid performances are also delivered by John Lithgow, Hugh Dancy and Amy Ryan. Ganatra, who made a name for herself behind the helm of "Chutney Popcorn" and television episodes of "Brooklyn Nine-Nine," manages to cover a lot of ground without overwhelming the audience. The social commentary is not in your face, the comedy is as smart as it is laugh-out-loud funny, the pacing is consistent.
"Late Night" does suffer from predictability and several cheesy moments, but those elements don’t really harm the film, neither at a micro or macro level. The Amazon Studios production, at the end of the day, as a pleasant comedy reflecting the times we live in – achieving diversity isn’t easy but living in a monotonous world devoid of color (no pun intended) is even harder, nay impossible.
"Late Night" is Rated R and opens on June 7 in Los Angeles and New York (June 14 everywhere else); running time is 102 minutes.