Kal­ing’s ‘Late Night’ is the hit of Sun­dance

Film tack­les is­sues of di­ver­sity, gen­der pol­i­tics

USA TODAY US Edition - - LIFE - Pa­trick Ryan

PARK CITY, Utah – Leave it to Mindy Kal­ing to give this year’s Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val its first sure­fire hit.

The ac­tress/writer touched down at the fes­ti­val over the week­end to pre­miere her fem­i­nist work­place com­edy “Late Night,” which she wrote, pro­duced and stars in with Emma Thomp­son. She was greeted with an ex­u­ber­ant stand­ing ova­tion when she walked on stage af­ter a Satur­day morn­ing screen­ing of the movie, scooped up hours ear­lier for a hefty $13 mil­lion by Ama­zon, which will re­lease it in the­aters later this year.

And judg­ing by au­di­ence mem­bers’ ri­otous laugh­ter through­out, Ama­zon could have a box-of­fice win­ner in line with its last ma­jor Sun­dance buy “The Big Sick,” which made off with $42.9 mil­lion in 2017 on its way to an Os­car nom­i­na­tion for best orig­i­nal screen­play.

“Late Night” fol­lows Kather­ine New­bury (Thomp­son), the caus­tic vet­eran host of fic­tional late-night show “Tonight,” who turns up her nose at YouTube celebri­ties and cutesy vi­ral seg­ments. (No, she has zero in­ter­est in wash­ing a sheep­dog with Robert Downey Jr., thank you very much.) En­ter Molly (Kal­ing), a qual­ity-con­trol spe­cial­ist at a chem­i­cal plant who wants to be a com­edy writer, and winds up get­ting hired at “Tonight” for the sole rea­son that she’s a woman.

Although Kather­ine ini­tially bris­tles at Molly’s earnest sug­ges­tions – she re­fuses to start a Twit­ter ac­count or talk pol­i­tics on air – the threat of los­ing her show to a smarmy shock comic (Ike Bar­in­holtz) even­tu­ally forces her to change her tune.

Scin­til­lat­ing and ra­zor-sharp, Kal­ing’s fea­ture screen­writ­ing de­but wryly com­ments on gen­der pol­i­tics and di­ver­sity in the work­place. But it also goes far be­yond sur­face-level in its fe­male em­pow­er­ment, as Molly seeks to prove why she de­serves a seat at the all-male writ­ers’ room ta­ble, and chal­lenge the pa­tri­ar­chal sys­tem that has kept her away from it.

Ad­dress­ing the Ec­cles Theatre crowd dur­ing a post-screen­ing Q&A, Kal­ing said “Late Night” isn’t in­spired by her early days as a writer on NBC’s “The Of­fice.” In­stead, it stems from feel­ing un­der­rep­re­sented in the me­dia as an In­dian-Amer­i­can girl grow­ing up in Bos­ton.

“This is a film about be­ing an out­sider and a real fan of things, and I have seen so many great movies about young fans of com­edy who are young white men,” Kal­ing said. “And when you don’t see your­self rep­re­sented in film, you start to fall in love with who­ever is out there. This comes from a real love and pas­sion for movies that show that kind of out­sider.”

“Late Night” boasts 95 per­cent pos­i­tive re­views on Rot­ten Toma­toes, with crit­ics sin­gling out Thomp­son’s “dy­na­mite” and “Os­car-wor­thy” per­for­mance. The ac­tress looked to David Let­ter­man as she pre­pared to play Kather­ine, who dismissive­ly as­signs her writ­ing staff num­bers rather than learn their names.

Although that par­tic­u­lar char­ac­ter de­tail is not in­spired by Let­ter­man, “that is based on some­one in Hol­ly­wood, whom I will never name but ac­tu­ally did that,” Kal­ing said. “There is a very fa­mous com­edy per­son who did that, so that is some­thing I didn’t even have to make up.”

PHO­TOS BY SUN­DANCE IN­STI­TUTE

Molly Pa­tel (Mindy Kal­ing) is an overly earnest, over­achiev­ing com­edy writer in “Late Night,” who’s brought on as a di­ver­sity hire for a fad­ing talk-show host.

Emma Thomp­son plays Kather­ine New­bury, a caus­tic vet­eran host who turns up her nose at YouTube celebri­ties and cutesy vi­ral seg­ments in “Late Night.”

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