The other day a friend mentioned the failure of Late Night, which made a lousy $19 million after Amazon paid $13 million for distrib rights last January. The reason, we both agreed, was that Mindy Kaling‘s character, hired as a comedy writer for Emma Thompson‘s talk show, wasn’t the least bit funny. She wasn’t even interested in funny. All she cared about was being respected in the work environment and not being treated as a token POC hire, which of course she was.
Kaling didn’t care if she was funny, and neither did director Nisha Ganatra. Neither did Emma Thompson or the other writers in the room. Nobody cared about “funny” at all. Because the movie was really about friendship between opposites. Would it have killed Ganatra if Kaling’s character had talked and behaved like a typical comedy writer? Someone with irreverent, smart-ass, “you may not like me but I’m funnier than you are” attitude? Apparently it would have.
I “liked” Nisha Gantra and Mindy Kaling‘s Late Night (Amazon, 6.7) as far as it went. It’s a chuckly, congenial consciousness-raiser for the most part — a feminist relationship story about a bitchy, flinty talk-show host of a certain age (Emma Thompson‘s Katherine Newbury) who’s panicking about being cancelled, and a newly hired comedy writer (Kaling’s Molly Patel) who seems more interested in workplace sensitivity and considerate behavior than in being “funny”, at least as I define the term.
Why is it a struggle to believe that Molly (who has never before written professional-grade comedy and has mostly been hired because she’s a woman as well as a POC) is a comedy writer worth her salt? Because most jokes that “land” and actually make people laugh are always a little cutting and sometimes flirt with cruelty. A certain pointed irreverence is essential.
The bottom line with Molly is that she seems to value being respected and treated courteously by Katherine and her comedy-writer colleagues above everything else, and that she’d rather swallow her tongue than wound the feelings of her fellow writers (all white guys) or anyone else for that matter. She’s more woke than joke.
But once you get past the hurdle of Kaling being more of a p.c. Miss Manners type than a comedy writer of any recognizable stamp, the film more or less works. It didn’t piss me off or rub me the wrong way, and I felt reasonably sated by the end. I went along with it, and that ain’t hay.