Moviegoers who watched trailers for “Late Night,” the new film written, produced, and co-starring Cambridge native Mindy Kaling, probably assumed that Kaling’s character — Molly Patel, the first woman to join the writing staff of a late-night show — is based on her own life.
While Kaling in an interview with Boston.com acknowledged that her character was partially based on her experience as the only woman and minority on the writing staff of NBC sitcom “The Office,” she also said that the movie’s other lead character, a veteran late-night host named Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson, “Sense and Sensibility”), is largely based on her time in show business.
“I also remember more recently what it was like to have a show, and doing ‘The Mindy Project’ for 117 episodes, recognizing the impatience you feel as an employer,” Kaling told Boston.com. “Remembering the struggles I had with realizing that I had to become a mentor and not just an employer.”
With “Late Night” hitting theaters on Friday, it remains to be seen whether “Late Night” will be a box office hit. But it has largely struck a winning note with critics so far, and the film has earned an 80 percent freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes at the time of this article’s publication.
That said, a single number can’t adequately capture the range of critical response, and many of the reviews coded as “fresh” or “rotten” by the critic aggregation site have a bit more nuance. To help you decide whether to head to the theater this weekend, here’s what some of the top film critics are saying, both good and bad, about “Late Night.”
The Boston Globe‘s Ty Burr praised Thompson’s performance, calling her a “prickly delight.”
“For all the good will packed into ‘Late Night,’ the movie comes truly to life only when Katherine is at her most lacerating, because sentiment is not Thompson’s forte — brutal, intelligent honesty is.”
A.O. Scott of The New York Times credited Kaling for finding new ways to explore well-worn topics, writing that the film’s “resistance to cliché is admirable.”
“Every time you think ‘Late Night’ is settling into familiar tropes — about workplace politics, mean bosses, long marriages, fish out of water, bootstraps and how to pull them — it shifts a few degrees and finds a fresh perspective.”
Jake Coyle of the Associated Press also loved Thompson’s performance.
“Watching ‘Late Night,’ an enjoyably zippy if scattershot comedy about a veteran late-night host and her fresh-faced new writing hire, a persistent thought runs through your head: How have we been abiding without a steady supply of leading roles like this for Emma Thompson, and why haven’t we by now elected her ruler of all living things?
Entertainment Weekly’s Leah Greenblatt gave “Late Night” a B, but wrote that the film felt “uneven,” calling Kaling’s performance a little all over the place” and director Nish Ganatra’s tone “scattershot.”
“Director Nisha Ganatra (Transparent, Better Things) nimbly mixes classic rom-com tropes with fresher ideas on race, class, and the tangled ideologies of modern feminism, though her tone can also feel scattershot and sometimes too sitcom-ish. The best scenes in ‘Late Night’ are consistently the ones where the movie’s main stars spar and banter and intermittently connect; two unlikely satellites smashing into each other’s orbits, and maybe finding themselves in the wreckage.”
NPR’s Linda Holmes wrote that while the film went in interesting directions, “Late Night” didn’t convince her that someone like Kaling’s character could write for a late-night show.
“‘Late Night’ isn’t quite a clean success, largely because it doesn’t persuade the viewer of the rightness of its opinions about what’s funny in a monologue. … There’s something really rich about the fact that the film’s biggest problem is trying to convince you that anyone can write a really funny traditional, topical, late-night monologue that late-night audiences would want to listen to.”
Vulture’s Angelica Jade Bastien wrote that “Late Night” fell short in providing incisive commentary about race and privilege, and that the script’s jokes felt “like they were gleaned from an HR PowerPoint in 2005.”
“In ‘Late Night’s’ conclusion, Molly technically learns to nurture her ambition — to not to settle when it comes to her professional dreams. It’s a lesson I hope audiences learn too in watching the film: We shouldn’t have to settle for mediocre, feminist-tinged films like ‘Late Night’ merely because we’re hungry for representation.”
The A.V. Club’s Jesse Hassenger wrote that “Late Night” didn’t mind delving into tougher issues, but seemed too eager to immediately move on to more positive plot developments.
“Late Night is admirably eager to address the messy problems of the comedy world, but it ultimately can’t stop cleaning up after itself. ”