As my loyal readers will know I rarely see romcoms as they’re not my thing. In this case I make an exception as I am a sneaky admirer of Emma Thompson, with the proviso that she’s always playing herself. The clipped received pronunciation, the squiffy mouth (like mine, perhaps that the main reason I like her) and the haircut to die for (I always wish my barnet looked like that). What I really admire is that she’s still getting great parts at the grand old age of 59. The fact husband used to hang out with her as a boy just adds a sense of familiarity to my feelings.
The other attraction of Late Nightis the writer, producer and star Mindy Kaling, an Indian American who is only 39. As I don’t watch Netflix or American comedy shows I was completely unaware quite how much of a star she is – co-wrote and co-starred in the US Office, ditto The Mindy Projectand has remade an Indian version of Four Weddings, due to be released later this year (there’s more but you can google her if you so wish).
Late Night’s premise was inspired by her own experience as a ‘diversity hire’ – a term that has replaced political correctness in the syntax – in the all-male writers’ room for The Office. As she said later, ‘And for a long time I was really embarrassed about that. No one said anything to me about it, but they all knew and I was acutely aware of that’. In this film, Molly lands the job through a tortuous and frankly unbelievable connection with the production company – how else would a quality controller from a chemical plant get the nod? There are a couple of plot lines that test the comprehension, not least in some of the characterisation.
Her new boss is the imperious feminist who hates women, Kate Newbury, doyenne of her own talk show. But she’s stuck in a narcissistic rut – not even on twitter or Instagram and growing out of touch with modern America. There are a couple of funny-ish scenes where she interviews social media stars to try and show she’s with-it. Her female boss takes great pleasure in telling her, her time is up – and she will be replaced by a foul-mouthed smug young stand-up.
Cue Molly to shake things up a bit to try and save the day, which she does in tiny steps, rubbing up against middle-class white male complacency in the writing room. As one of them whines, ‘I wish I was a woman of colour so I could get any job I wanted.’ As this is a romcom, there are some waspish one-liners, mostly from Thompson, some funny-ish situations (more sit-com maybe?) and a bit of nascent romance – if you can call office liaisons ‘romances’ in the TV world. There’s also a lot of misogyny and latent racism, which are the writer’s intentions.
The ensemble cast delivers well – the boys are good caricatures of various types: red-neck, preppy, Ivy League, entitled. I particularly like that Mindy Kaling is curvaceous to say the least, and doesn’t look her best in a tight mini-skirt; apparently she was still breast-feeding when she was filming. She breaks the Hollywood mould in this and on many levels. As I said before, Thompson is always Thompson, but obviously relishes this role as it gives her a rare opportunity to do comedy, which she is good at, with her impeccable sense of timing. John Lithgow, whom I last saw as Churchill, is her loving and supportive husband, and provides a channel to show the softer side of her character. This contradiction, along with her control-freakery at work but inability to communicate with her team at any level, is one of the major flaws in the plot. Somehow she is not quite credible as a character.
BUT, and it is a big but, it simply isn’t funny enough for a romcom. There are no laugh-out-loud moments, just some wry chuckles. I come away full of admiration for Mindy (and Molly as her alter ego) who has smashed through several glass ceiling to make this movie, and will no doubt continue to do so. But no sense of having seen a ground-breaking film, notwithstanding the subject-matter in this era of #metoo. I think Kaling meant to have more of an impact: perhaps the constraints of Hollywood and the box office prevented it being more incisive.