Aside from the pop-culture infused banter, Mindy Kaling's Late Night could be billed as a fantasy. Written by Kaling and directed by Nisha Ganatra (The Mindy Project, Transparent), Late Night enters the world of primetime comedy talk show host Katherine Newbury, who happens to be a woman. Played by Emma Thompson, Katherine learns that after 30 years on the air, her show is becoming obsolete. In an effort to transform public opinion, and to create a façade of diversity, Katherine adds Kaling's plucky character Molly to her male-dominated writers' room. Hinged on some of her own experiences and the landscape of gender equality in Hollywood, Kaling delivers a fresh take on female empowerment.
Kaling, who began her career as the only female writer on The Office, has built an empire around her personal brand. Her show The Mindy Project ran for six seasons, she's published two books comprised of personal essays, and stolen scenes on the big screen in A Wrinkle In Time and Oceans 8. Late Night feels like a manifestation of her success. Speaking at Stella Artois' Deadline panel at this year's Sundance Film Festival after the movie's world premiere, Kaling detailed how her own experiences influenced her writing.
One of the particular joys of writing this movie was I wrote a film where both characters, both my character and Emma’s character, I identify with completely. I identify completely with the woman who has her own show, who has a staff, who’s exhausted, who’s a little cranky — even though it’s not appropriate to be — and kind of ungrateful and can lean and steer toward complacency... But I also remember distinctly, painfully, what it’s like to be an outsider, to be someone who wanted to badly to work in television… just to fight and get in the door that way and know what it’s like to be the first female writer on the staff.
Kaling's point of view coupled with Katherine's Miranda Priestly-esque presence and Molly's raw enthusiasm creates a new type of workplace comedy — one where the women shine in a patriarchal industry. Molly is hired on a lazy whim and represents the type of approval-seeking woman who is both apologetic and eager (she brings in cupcakes on her first day). Katherine is forced to hide certain parts of who she is, maintaining a hard outer shell and succumbing to Hollywood's gendered double standards.
While Molly and Katherine are on different ends of the spectrum, the two women ultimately find the common ground in the Venn diagram of their relationship. Late Night's female leads aren't worried about when they'll get married or where to find the perfect dress. The movie is, quite simply, a tribute to success. And the thread that ties the two women's experiences together is Kaling herself.
Late Night takes your preconceived notions about female-centric comedies and swaps them with gender-bending themes of mentorship and inclusion. However, while the movie does tackle these themes of intersectional feminism, at its core, it's really a smart, funny comedy.
As Kaling said at Sundance,
What we decided with this movie is that we really wanted to show a really great workplace movie with ambition, mentorship, there’s romance in it, that’s what we wanted to write and to do and.. we love talking about feminism and roles of all this, but we're like, this movie is really funny and great. It’s the kind of thing you can bring your friends to, bring your parents to, it’s such a fun movie, I’m just excited for people to see it.
Amazon bought Late Night for a record breaking $13 million immediately after its premiere — just in case the industry needed further proof that a female comedy, especially anything made by Kaling, sells.