MOVIE REVIEW: Double act hits stride with show of diversity
Directed: Nisha Ganatra
Starring: Mindy Kaling, Emma Thompson, Hugh Dancy, John Lithgow
Running time: 102 minutes
Verdict TV: Comedy rates high on diversity
MINDY Kaling has been breaking down barriers her whole career.
Having grown up not seeing people of Indian hteritage on the small screen, she went on to intern on Late Night with Conan O'Brien before becoming part of both the cast and the writing staff of the US version of The Office, and finally getting her own show, The Mindy Project.
Kaling is well placed to comment on the lack of diversity on American TV, which is the theme of the movie she has written and stars in, Late Night. She plays Molly Patel, a quality control expert at a chemical plant and amateur stand-up comic who lands an interview for a writing job on a late-night talk show.
She's in luck, as the program's prickly host Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson) has been criticised for having an all-white, all-male writing staff. Molly gets her break, but soon realises the show has other problems.
After 28 years it's stale, ratings are stagnant and Newbury has been informed by her network boss (Amy Ryan) that she is soon to be replaced as host by a boorish and sexist young male comic (Ike Barinholtz).
Kaling and Thompson make a likeable comic double act - one the awkward fan girl in awe of her idol, the other a cold fish out of touch with the real world.
Thompson's character has been compared to Meryl Streep's in The Devil Wears Prada, and indeed, Katherine is a boss so toxic that she assigns numbers to her writers rather than both to learn their names - which is funny.
On camera, however, she struggles to show us how she could win over an American mass TV audience. Katherine's persona is imperious, rather than charming, which is a terrible thing to have to say about a role played by Emma Thompson, and the script's major flaw.
Credibility problems aside, where Thompson and the film actually shine is in the more dramatic moments, when we learn about Katherine's struggles with depression and about faultlines in her marriage to older, ailing husband Walter (John Lithgow).
Katherine's show needs an injection of honesty and self-awareness, and when Molly writes a skit about 'white saviours' Thompson starts to convince as a comedian and the movie really hits its stride.
The film's thesis is that comedy thrives on variety, on a diversity of ideas and viewpoints, and it's one that holds true for any workplace.
Late Night opens on Thursday.