Films with simple plot skeletons such as 'Late Night' always have the potential to be completely average and in some cases just fall flat.
Luckily, Mindy Kaling's writing puts 'Late Night' in a league of its own, with a cast full of shining stars and some very intelligent humour and relevant commentary.
It's a relatively paint-by-numbers premise: Successful but aging late-night show, struggling with ratings, new person comes along and provides a fresh new take. This could have been an issue, but the script and the overall flow of the film are executed in such a way that they do exactly what Mindy's character Molly does to 'Tonight With Katherine Newbury': give it new life.
This script is great. The communication between characters throughout it is crisp and snappy, and as the story moves along, its characters power-walk swiftly alongside it providing constant biting humour and well-paced dialogue which never feels slack or half-cooked.
Emma Thompson plays the role of 'Devil Wears Prada'-esque boss Katherine with unsurprising ease. The audience of Katherine's show may be getting bored of her work, but the genius of Emma Thompson is undeniable and on full display here. While Katherine is a cold and unsettling presence in the workplace, 'Late Night' does a decent job of displaying her soft side as well. This is very important, and it's great to see that her work ethic and success as a woman in power is addressed instead of her just being painted as an unreasonably terrifying person.
Meanwhile, Mindy Kaling's Molly is the most charming and endearing part of this film. She's a woman who absolutely knows how to stand her ground and be assertive when she needs to be, but the heart she displays when applying herself to her new job just makes you smile. A particular shot of her beaming from ear to ear to herself on the way to work comes to mind... She totally sells the 'new girl on her way to a dream job' glimmer. Genuinely a joy to watch.
Other great performances come from John Lithgow as Katherine's husband Walter, Denis O'Hare as assistant Brad, Hugh Dancy as writer Charlie, and Ike Barinholtz as (particularly unlikeable) comedian Daniel Tennant.
There's some intelligently-written humour sprinkled throughout 'Late Night' as well, surrounding themes such as 'diversity hires' in the workplace, ageism, and the importance (and effectiveness!) of gender equality in 2019. Some of this is cleverly subtle, while other bits are quite on-the-nose, including one line by one of the white male writers who straight up says “I wish I was a woman of colour so I could just get any job I want”.
Filled with equal parts heart and timely messages, 'Late Night' is a success which proves Mindy Kaling's abilities as a screenwriter, further solidifies Emma Thompson's film icon status, and brings the two together on screen for a thoughtful, funny, and important hour and 42 minutes.