Mindy Kaling says she was “terrified” that an actual late night television host, Stephen Colbert, was going to see her new movie “Late Night” at the Wellmont Theater in Montclair, May 4. But Colbert pronounced it “pretty accurate” when they both appeared in a question-and-answer session after the screening, which was part of the Montclair Film Festival.
Kaling, who wrote and co-produced the film in addition to starring in it, said “Late Show With Stephen Colbert” staff members were actually consulted, to make sure the behind-the-scenes stuff was accurate. Colbert, who is mentioned in the film (while another current late night host makes a surprise cameo), said that while the movie got what it showed right, it didn’t show everything that is involved in putting together a talk show.
Of course, it wasn’t designed to. “Late Night” is a not a documentary. It’s a comedy that occasionally touches upon bigger themes of sexism and racial discrimination in the workplace.
Emma Thompson plays Katherine Newbury, a smart, flinty late night talk show host with a 28-year-tenure. (That alone takes the film into the realm of “science fiction,” Kaling joked in Montclair, since no female late night host has been on the air for anything close to that length).
Accused of not letting women work in her writers’ room, she pressures her long-suffering producer Brad (Denis O’Hare) to hire one as soon as possible. And in a very contrived plot twist, he picks Molly Patel (Kaling), a chemical plant worker who idolizes Newbury but has no significant writing experience.
Eventually, the insecure but plucky Molly manages to make herself a valued member of the boys-club writing room — accurately depicted as a place of “long bouts of lethargy, punctuated by panic,” Colbert said. She also tries to help Newbury — a TV dinosaur who hates social media and likes to book guests like Dianne Feinstein and Doris Kearns Goodwin instead of the latest pop sensations — save her own possibly flagging career.
It’s a good film, I thought, but not a great one. Kaling’s background in television shows in her sometimes going for an easy, throwaway joke — Molly, for instance, emptying a garbage can onto the floor so she can turn it over and sit on it when there is no seat for her at her first writers meeting — instead of resisting that urge and going for something subtler and more substantial.
Colbert did an extended interview with Kaling before the film was screened, focusing on her life and career rather than the film himself. Among the topics they discussed were her many upcoming projects, including “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” a series based upon the hit 1994 film that will debut on Hulu in July; Kaling created and wrote the series with Matt Warburton, who also worked with her on her sitcom, “The Mindy Project.”
Colbert also talked with Kaling briefly, and fielded audience questions with her, after the film was shown.
Colbert’s enthusiasm for the film didn’t seem to make Kaling comfortable about other late night hosts seeing it, and judging it. He offered to get them all together one day, to watch it with her. “I would kill myself,” she responded.
For more on the festival, which runs through May 12, visit montclairfilm.org.
“Late Night” will go into wide release on June 7. Here is the trailer.
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