The world of late-night talk shows has always been the domain of men, however, American actress, comedian and writer Mindy Kaling seeks to challenge this idea in her new film Late Night. Kaling brings her quirky humour and comedy experience to the table in the hopes of shining a spotlight on the need for diversity in this industry.
The movie revolves around the late-night talk show scene, where one woman, Katherine Newbury, has managed to push her way in. As the host, Katherine (played by Emma Thompson) is too entrenched in her ways, leading to a steady decline in ratings over ten years. The combination of her stale ideas and the all-white male writing room—who keep producing the same jokes repeatedly—has hastened this decline. This is where Kaling’s character Molly Patel comes in. Patel is the newbie; chosen as a diversity hire with little experience but a whole lot of motivation. But as the only woman and person of colour in the room, getting things done and proving herself is not quite that easy. Unsurprisingly she is met with resistance from the male writers, however, most of the challenge and opposition comes from Katherine herself.
Kaling writes and stars in this film, using her years of experience as the only female writer on The Office (2008-2013). Her choice to make a woman the host of a late-night talk show in this film perhaps highlights that there aren’t many in real life. What’s more, Katherine Newbury is no saint. Portrayed as both cold and old fashioned, Newbury is stuck in the 1970s-wave of white feminism and only books mature white female intellectuals on her show. As such, she struggles to see the need to push for a diversity of voices in her writing room. Thompson excels as Katherine, but the character herself falters in her seemingly over-cooked comedy routines.
Kaling, however, brings her usual charm and clumsy confident persona in spades. As soon as Molly enters her new workplace with introductory cupcakes, she is met with indifference from the men. Immediately it is made known to Molly by the writers, and by Katherine, that she is a diversity hire and will not be taken seriously. What’s more, Molly has very little comedy experience (her last job was at a chemical plant) and as such, she is pretty much pushed to the side. The former Mindy Project (2012-2017) and The Office actor clearly knows what to say and how to say it to get a laugh; this role is a change of pace for the actress, with Kaling portraying a character with less narcissistic and more relatable qualities than those of her previous roles.
As an avid follower of Kaling’s career I am excited that she is using her platform and writing skills as an opportunity to address the need for diversity. Unfortunately, the film glosses over a very serious issue and makes it seem easy to change entrenched institutionalised attitudes towards diversity and women. The style of humour is also somewhat predictable; the stand-up routines in Late Night often feel like they are made for the film rather than being actually funny. And although this is a film about comedy, it often lacks punchlines with enough actual punch to produce a laugh. With that being said, the ensemble cast of writers make for an interesting dynamic while Molly and the men keep things light and entertaining.
I think that although this may not be a winner as a comedy, there is a clear and endearing message at the heart of the film. If there is more diversity among the voices at the table, everyone benefits—writers, hosts and audiences included. Mindy Kaling portrays this idea in a cool and subtle way so that even your most old-fashioned Aunt will understand.
Late Night is in cinemas now!