This is one of the few times I have seen a movie without reading about what it’s about or watching the trailer for it. But I’m glad I saw it at any rate. Late Night is a brilliant film about a late-night show host named Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson plays her so well) who struggles to keep viewers interested in her show. Her writers’ team, all white and male, doesn’t have any original ideas and she has fired quite a few people from her staff because they do not live up to her high expectations, so they feel intimidated and threatened just because she’s a powerful woman in charge. Molly Patel (Mindy Kaling) is a recent transplant from Pennsylvania who used to work at a chemical plant but applied to be a writer for Katherine’s show and got the job even though she lacks the qualifications for it. When she first walks into the writer’s room, the men assume she is Katherine’s assistant and ask her to fetch them food and do other administrative things. But Katherine has her be a part of the brainstorming process because people have criticized her for not having a woman on her writer’s team even though she is a woman. All the men on the team, once again, feel threatened that a woman has joined their boys club.
This film reminded me somewhat of The Devil Wears Prada because like Katherine, Miranda Priestly runs the show and does not suffer fools on her Runway magazine team, so it’s no wonder that everyone keeps telling Andy Sachs, one of the applicants for the job as Miranda’s personal assistant, that so many other young women want that position just as much as she does. Andy, however, doesn’t take Miranda seriously, and in one famous scene of the film Miranda is examining two belts and Andy laughs out loud from the corner, telling Miranda that the belts look exactly the same, so there was no point in fussing over them. Miranda calls her out for thinking that she knows everything about fashion when she has no idea how to dress properly for the job. Like Andy, Molly tries to impose her ideas on Katherine in just her first few days on the job, giving her ways to improve the show and outwardly criticizing it in the writer’s meeting to Katherine. Katherine then tells Molly that she’s not going to take advice from her since she is inexperienced with being a writer.
However, unlike Katherine, Miranda continues to disrespect people throughout the film and still maintains her distance from Andy even when Andy starts dressing nicely and losing weight to impress Miranda. Toward the end of the film, Emily doesn’t get to go to Paris with Miranda because she gets sick and falls short in her work, even though she’s been Miranda’s assistant longer than Andy has, and so Andy goes to Paris and meets these famous fashion designers. But when she starts letting Miranda’s demands take over her life, she loses touch with herself and even storms off on her friends when they make fun of Miranda. Towards the end of the film, Miranda says that she sees herself in Andy because like Miranda stepped over Nigel (she promised him a job at a new fashion magazine, but devised a plan so that someone else got it and not him) Andy stepped over Emily by becoming better than her at her job. Andy realizes that she’s not cut out for this job anymore because while she got to work for this really prestigious person, she still never got treated with genuine respect and was just acting like this cool person so that she could keep her job. When Andy leaves, Miranda still treats her with disdain, not reciprocating Andy’s hello when Andy waves at her.
In Late Night, Katherine fires Molly after she tells her and the writers that she has to go to a gig and can’t stay for the meeting, but then realizes that she’s better off going to Molly’s show instead of sitting in the writer’s room while her team pitches unoriginal ideas to her. When she goes, she hears Molly talking about how she was fired and how Katherine hates her, and volunteers to go up after Molly. When she starts off her sketch by calling Twitter stupid, her audience doesn’t laugh, but when she changes the topic and jokes about her age and being a woman, she gets laughs and her show soon makes headway. One of the guests on her show got famous for her videos of pretending to sniff her dog’s butt and Katherine made fun of her for it, and the girl stormed off in the middle of the show. After Katherine starts using Molly’s material and letting go of this need to be distant from people, she starts respecting her guests, and even gets a hug from a girl who appears on her show. This shows that while it’s important to work hard and take your job seriously, it’s important to learn from other people even when you are the boss and not always take yourself too seriously. Katherine at first wouldn’t tell any of Molly’s jokes, but when she does the audience likes her more.
Another reason I love this film so much is that it addresses the issue of diversity in the business of late night show writing (and comedy in general) in a way that recognizes that the conversation around more diversity is more than just dropping a person of color into a room and saying “yay, we’ve fulfilled a quota”. I was really excited when I read that Mindy Kaling wrote and produced the film, and Nisha Ganatra directed it. It’s one of the few comedy movies I have seen produced, written and directed by women of color. Even though progress has been made, diversity and other social justice issues can’t just be settled by one movie. It’s about having these frequent conversations about diversity in the entertainment industry, because when we stop talking about it, we get the same majority-group people produce and write these films, leaving young women of color with no role models who look like them. Even though Katherine is a woman, she is white and as time goes on she understands how she benefits from being white, even producing a sketch where she hails a cab for two black men and jokes about being a “white savior”. Molly is the only woman of color on the writer’s team and the staff members treat her like a token when they first meet her. However, through her hard work and willingness to learn new things, Molly proves to the staff and Katherine that she’s not a token and she got the job because she actually was excited about it. The film addresses sexism in the workplace, but also the intersectionality between race and gender because Katherine and Molly’s experiences as women are just as different as they are similar.
The movie also showed the amount of work that goes into being a writer for late night shows. Molly stays up well into the night at the office during her first few weeks there because she is determined to keep her job at the show, even when Katherine doesn’t recognize her hard work. When she first starts, the writers tell her that in order to stay on the team, she has to not assume she knows everything and that she needs to write a ton. She comes to the first couple of meetings with an agenda detailing what improvements Katherine should make for the show, and Katherine flips through it, but then tosses it on her desk in boredom and tells Molly that she doesn’t care about her silly agenda and to do her job and write, even if the jokes don’t all make it to the show. This taught me that getting a job is hard, but the hardest part is taking criticism. I always go back to that quote by Ira Glass about doing a lot of work as a creative. He said that even though creatives have good taste, when we first start writing or creating this work it’s just not that good and not everyone’s going to like it. The solution to not beating yourself up and quitting your career as a creative? Keep creating. Just show up and do the work. None of the writers on Katherine’s show (or any late night show for that matter) had the time to wait for inspiration; they just had to write the jokes, give them to Katherine, let them get dumped and then write some more. And of course, when you get overwhelmed, it’s important to take breaks (then again, everyone’s situation is different, and not everyone gets to take that break time from their writing).
I thought it was kind of cool that Seth Myers appears in the film. When Katherine fires Molly, Molly goes to Seth Myers looking for a job as a late night host writer for his show. He hires her after she tells him how she worked for Katherine, but Katherine hears about this and dissuades her from working for Seth because Molly taught Katherine to not give up and she really needs her for the show. I thought this was interesting because unlike Katherine, Seth Myers actually has women of color on his writing staff, and they even get their own segments on his show. Amber Ruffin, who is black, and Jenny Hagel, who is Latina, star in a segment of Seth’s show called Jokes Seth Can’t Tell, where Amber and Jenny each take turns telling jokes about race and gender that Seth, being a straight white male, does not feel comfortable telling. The sketch always ends with Amber and Jenny convincing Seth he should tell a joke and then after finally giving in, he tells an offensive joke and Amber and Jenny pretend to be offended. Amber and Jenny also have their own separate segments where they address social issues going on in the news.
But overall, I thought this movie was amazing and I would love to see it again. #WomenofColorRockComedy 🙂
Late Night. 2019. Rated R for language throughout and some sexual references.