Sundance film: Mindy Kaling and Emma Thompson navigate feminism’s waves in ‘Late Night’
For the trio of women behind “Late Night,” a comedic entry in the 2019 Sundance Film Festival’s Premieres program, the project was a deeply personal one.
But for Indian-Canadian Nisha Ganatra, Indian-American Mindy Kaling and native Briton Emma Thompson, “personal” isn’t as narrow of a term as it may sound.
The film, helmed by an experienced director in Ganatra (with a long resume including work on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “Dear White People” and “The Mindy Project”), a star in Thompson (“Love Actually,” the Harry Potter series), and a script written by co-star Kaling (“The Office,” “The Mindy Project”), is the product of three women who have been around the block while navigating the entertainment world.
Ganatra cited her experience in Hollywood’s diversity programs, Kaling’s experience writing and acting over the nine-season run of “The Office,” and Emma Thompson’s origins in sketch comedy before being typecast as, in the director’s words, “nice women in boring frocks,” as pieces of the creators that went into production.
Friday, January 25 6:30 p.m., Eccles Theatre
Saturday, January 26 9:00 a.m., Eccles Theatre
Sunday, January 27 3:15 p.m., Grand Theatre
Monday, January 28 12:00 p.m., Sundance Mountain Resort Screening Room Sundance
Tuesday, January 29 8:45 p.m., Library Center Theatre
Saturday, February 2 8:30 p.m., The MARC Theatre
Sunday, February 3 6:15 p.m., Tower Theatre, Salt Lake City
“This is sort of fun for all of us to get back to our roots and our love for comedy and what made us excited about making the movie in the first place,” Ganatra said.
The film’s plot centers on the relationship between Katherine Newbury (Thompson), a well-established late night comedian with an all-male writing staff, and Molly (Kaling), an ambitious young writer Newbury brings on as a diversity hire. As Newbury reckons with declining ratings and accusations of “white feminism,” Molly brings ideas to the table that cross a generational divide and help the television standby get back on track — and allow the characters to, maybe, learn something in the process.
Ganatra said that while the film tackles themes like white privilege, divisions of age among feminist women and the broader challenges facing women in show business, “Late Night” at its core is a story about two people crossing a wide personal and generational gulf to affect change on a larger scale.
“Instead of the women who break through and close the door behind them, feeling like, ‘Oh, I made it, thank God, nobody else can get in here, (the film is about) how important it is for this generation of women who have done the hard work — to make it — to kick that door open for those coming in behind them,” she said.
Presently, Ganatra says that while, on the outside, the cultural mainstreaming of feminism and events like the #MeToo movement would appear to have begun evening the odds for women and other marginalized groups in Hollywood, a lot of work remains to be done on that front.
“For me, I’m an optimist and I’m a hopeful person and I feel like things are always getting better, but that change is not coming as fast or as large as it needs to,” she said.
Ganatra said she believes comedy is one of the most potent narrative genres in terms of speaking truth to power, and that she hopes the film’s message sticks the landing in the minds of the audience of industry professionals and film enthusiasts attending the Sundance Film Festival.
“I hope the Sundance audience comes away laughing,” she said. “I hope everybody comes away seeing something to think about. It’s a really fun movie, to hear really intelligent women talking about these things in a really funny manner.”
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