'Late Night' Review: Mindy Kaling Charms, Emma Thompson Sizzles In A Delightful Showbiz Comedy [Sundance]

Take Broadcast News, mix it with The Devil Wears Prada, and throw it into the bustling world of late night television, and you've got Late Night, the delightful and timely new comedy from first-time feature director Nisha Ganatra and screenwriter Mindy Kaling. Funny without being unnecessarily edgy, sharp without overdoing it, and populated by a fantastic ensemble cast, this film is bound to be a real crowdpleaser.

Late Night takes us behind the scenes of the fictional late night talk show Tonight with Katherine Newbury, but the situation is dire. Even though Katherine (Emma Thompson) just won a prestigious comedy award, the show hasn't been good in years, ratings are low, and the network is about ready to pull the plug. But maybe the desperate diversity hire of Molly Patel (Mindy Kaling) as the latest, sole female in a writers' room full of white dudes will not only reinvigorate the show, but also its complacent host.

The only problem is Katherine isn't exactly thrilled to be dealing with her writers in order to save her career, especially since she hasn't even met most of them. On top of that, this sausage fest of comedy writers played by Reid Scott (Veep), Paul Walter Hauser (I, Tonya), Hugh Dancy (Hannibal), Max Casella (Jackie), John Early (The Disaster Artist), and more nameless faces aren't too keen to have the totally inexperience chemical plant employee Molly brought in at their most desperate hour, especially with her honest opinions, endless ambition and masculinity challenging presence.

While the film is undoubtedly formulaic in its approach to this showbiz story, it never feels dull. And that's largely thanks to the effortlessly endearing and earnest presence of Mindy Kaling. Maybe it's because this is not only her first lead role on the big screen but also her feature writing debut, but Kaling radiates enthusiasm and energy here. However, she's not responsible for the most brilliant performance.

This is just as much Emma Thompson's movie as it is Mindy Kaling's, and that's because she's one of the most gifted actresses of her time. She brings a bite to Katherine Newbury that makes every sharp and witty jab land firmly when she slings insults and sarcasm at her writers (or anyone who rubs her the wrong way). And she does it looking like a trendy pantsuit goddess that would easily make her the best-dressed late night show host in history. Even though her character carries shades of Meryl Streep's memorable turn as fashion magazine editor Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, Thompson brings more moments of levity to the table and a side that feels far less cold. She oozes confidence and has no problem creating a strong stage presence, so much that it made me wish Emma Thompson would really host a late night show.

One downside to Late Night is that it doesn't take more shots at the cliches and tropes of the current roster of late night programming. It's also not bringing a lot of innovative ideas to the table when it comes to revamping Tonight with Katherine Newbury. But that's not to say there aren't jokes at the expense of the medium, especially one outstanding rip at The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. But perhaps to Mindy Kaling's credit, she's not eager to lambast her fellow comedy writers, some of which I'm sure she would call friends. Instead, this is a movie focused on optimism, forward-thinking, inclusion, and yes, diversity. But it does so without being preachy, and with a snappy script to boot. It's not quite as quick as something like Veep or 30 Rock, but it still packs a solid comedic punch.

For a first-time filmmaker, Nisha Ganatra knows the ropes. However, it's not exactly the most cinematic movie. Much like the setting of the film itself, the film's visuals feel like they're stuck in television. That's not surprising since she hails from behind the camera of TV shows like Transparent, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Last Man on Earth, but the film isn't particularly stylish when it comes to cinematography. But again, since this is her first-time tackling feature films, it's hard to hold that against her, especially when everything else in the movie is done so well.

Late Night doesn't reinvent the wheel when it comes to showbiz comedy and drama, but the combination of a dynamite Emma Thompson and a splendid Mindy Kaling makes it stand out among the pack. It's delightful, funny, and more than satisfying. Before the year is over, this will be one of the most beloved comedies of the year.

Amazon picked up the movie shortly after its premiere for $13 million, so you'll see it later this year.

/Film rating: 8.5 out of 10