Late Night (4 stars)

Late Night

Sundance London 2019: Mindy Kaling is the writer and star of a shrewd comedy co-starring Emma Thompson

Comedian Mindy Kaling brings her piquant perspective to a classic tale of an outsider entering a hostile workplace. Taking on an industry she knows all too well, TV comedy, the writer-star piles subjects for discussion up high, framing her observations within a peppy, commercially appealing narrative, in a film that plays like Working Girl meets 30 Rock.

Directed by Nisha Ganatra – who collaborated with Kaling on The Mindy Project – it's the story of seasoned talk show host Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson, in her best role for years). She's an Englishwoman, taken to America's bosom, showered with honours but whose shtick has grown stale. Scripted entirely by men, Katherine's own acerbic, somewhat embittered personality is hidden from view, yet she's loath to change things up. However, when her job is jeopardised, Katherine is forced to do just that, as her writing staff are ordered to bring a female contributor onboard. To their horror, in walks Kaling's Molly, an inexperienced woman of colour, whose last job was in quality control at a chemical plant.

When Kaling joined the American remake of The Office as writer-performer she was the only woman on the team. If she's got beef, she wears it lightly in a film that's as pertinent as it is personal. While Thompson snarls and snarks her way through well-crafted putdowns, Kaling's irresistible sweetness adds a spring to the story's step; their salt and sugar dynamic is the film's trump card.

Wielding a winningly nuanced grasp of its issues – authenticity, feminism, ageism, diversity, privilege – Late Night acknowledges the role of fear and need for co-operation in its battle-of-the-sexes narrative, without compromising its own ideals. Looking beyond the obvious bad guys, its intrinsic good nature suggests a way past society's current stalemate.

Screening as part of the Sundance Film Festival 2019: London. General release from Fri 7 Jun.

Late Night

  • 4 stars
  • 2019
  • US
  • 1h 42min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Nisha Ganatra
  • Cast: Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, John Lithgow
  • UK release: 7 June 2019

Katherine (Thompson) is a seasoned talk show host who, when forced to hire new writing staff, takes on former chemical plant employee Molly (Kaling). Kaling’s script is peppy, good-natured and has a good grasp of the issues, and Thompson has her best role in years. Piquant and winning.