I’m so glad I finally got the chance to watch Late Night! I try to give my money to women-led projects as a matter of course, but I really like Mindy Kaling, and Emma Thompson is awesome as well, so I’ve been excited about this movie for a long time.
Spoiler for this blog: this movie gets 15/15. The performances were great, the plot was solid, and it lacked some of the problems I’ve seen in the popular movies I’ve seen lately, namely by focusing in on the characters and how they affect each other. If you saw the trailer and thought of The Devil Wears Prada, there are some positive similarities I’ll get into later.
In Late Night, Emma Thompson’s Katherine Newbury has been on the late night talk show beat for 25 years. She’s out of touch, harsh to female employees, unaware of her privilege, disdainful, basically your standard bad movie boss. She’s pressured to hire a female writer for the all-male writing staff, and Mindy Kaling’s Molly gets the gig.
Not offensive to women = 1/1 pt
I don’t know how to answer this one! I mean, I know I already said Late Night got full points, but there is something to say about the “Dragon Lady” boss archetype. It’s not offensive to me, but I wonder if it should be? The trope is discussed here and here (by women writers). Emma Thomson’s character isn’t aggressively racist or sexist, but she has succeeded within the patriarchy, without pulling up any other marginalized people with her. I’m not saying she has to do that, per se, but certainly the movie sees it as a negative. This portrayal also feeds into the stereotype that women are worse bosses, despite there being no evidence for this at all.
I read the play Top Girls in freshman year of college, and I swear it’s the piece of literature I reference most in my life (besides the Song of the Lioness series:). In a conversation between two sisters, one asks the other if succeeding within a patriarchal system is really success. As a 18-year-old college student, that question blew my mind! Now as a cynical 30-year-old, I can easily answer “No.” The answer isn’t that simple for a lot of women though.
And yet, the movie chooses to make Emma’s character sympathetic. If the plot had been a male character learning to respect women and people of color, it probably would’ve rung so false I wouldn’t have bothered reviewing it here! But since it’s an older white woman… I don’t know. Her realizing her connection with Molly feels sincere and their parallel struggles make her feel worthy of connection.
In The Devil Wears Prada, we can set the question of race to the side since the boss and protege are both white. From a gender standpoint, Miranda Priestly is an interesting character. She’s married, with two young daughters. She’s conformed to society in that way, so it’s mostly in her demanding personality that earns her her Dragon Lady reputation. Miranda is also surviving in a cutthroat business world and in her own way she’s teaching Andy to survive in it. Andy chooses to leave, but the movie does not vilify Miranda. At the end, we understand why she acts the way she does.
I can’t say which of these is a better ending. Both bosses are rude to the main characters, to the detriment of their careers, in some cases. But they are women who have had to fight to gain fame/fortune/success, and had to make sacrifices along the way. So I guess I just hope we continue to have representations of older women, so their stories and perspectives continue to be told.
Features a woman as the main protagonist and/or supporting character = 2/2 pts
Passes the Bechdel-Wallace test = 3/3 pts
Yep, easily, though there’s not a lot of racial rep (that’s the point of the movie though), and no LGBT rep.
Instead of the main women characters, I want to talk about the male side characters. I found I wanted more of guys like Walter, Katherine’s husband, and Tom, Molly’s coworker! Funnily enough, since they occupy and were given the same screen time as women characters usually get in major motion pictures. Nevertheless, these guys did a lot with a little screen time, so hat’s off to the script/editing skills.
Oh and shoutout to the scene-stealing Jia Patel, who plays Molly’s younger cousin Pavarti.
Artistic and/or Entertaining = 4/4 pts
This isn’t a romcom, I’d call it a workplace comedy. But Mindy Kaling has always had a strong grasp of what makes romcoms good, and a privileged older woman hoofing it up a NYC walkup in her heels and fancy clothes to seek forgiveness from her younger employee was a hilarious twist on the romcom trope of chasing after one’s true love.
Mindy plays a toned-down version of her other roles. Molly is still quirky and sincere, but less brash and crude than we might expect from Mindy Kaling. Her character explaining how she got the interview for the writing job (winning a writing contest) is both hilarious and a great example of how to show character, stakes, and humor in one. Pay attention, scriptwriters! They could easily have made the explanation a throwaway, but instead her character was established succinctly and cleverly.
A movie about comedy has a lot of pressure on it to be funny, but with Mindy Kaling and Emma Thompson on board I’m not sure there was ever a risk of it not being funny. I recommend it for a relaxing weekend when you want a safe bet.
Above and Beyond General Media = 5/5 pts
I raised some questions earlier in this post that I don’t have answers to, but I’m glad there’s a film out there that made me ask them. So often we are expected to feel grateful for even the smallest bit of representation. Late Night centers women and women of color, does so skillfully and thoughtfully, and opens the door for important discussions about success, patriarchal systems, and white women’s role in them. Easy 5 points here.
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