Review by J.T. Johnson
Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling light up the screen in a light-hearted comedy drama with a big message and plenty of feel good attitude. The movie takes a very non-cynical and hopeful approach to addressing sexism in the workplace and what it means to be a woman working in a male dominated workplace. It is partially based on writer and star Kaling’s own life as she recently admitted that she was a diversity hire at NBC when she got her breakthrough job on “The Office”.
The great thing about her take with this movie, though, is that even though she doesn’t shy away from showing the very male and very white dominated world in which she is hired into, she offers hope for the future. She shows that even if you were hired for “diversity”, then step up and prove that you belong there. While that may be unfair for her character Molly, if she does that, then future generations will be hired based solely on their talent rather than for some arbitrary reason.
The movie is about how the legendary talk show host Katherine Newbury (Thompson) is about to be replaced on her show, “Tonight”. Katherine starts out as a cold hearted woman who probably hasn’t been happy with her show for a long time yet is resistant to changing it. The only real comfort to her is her ill husband Walter Newbury (John Lithgow), a husband that is supportive but also very willing to share his opinions of her and her show.
At the office, she fires a writer who simply asked for a raise and before he stomps out, he mentions that while she may present a certain feminist image of her show, her entire writing staff is made up of white males making her something of a hypocrite. This prompts her to hire Molly as the said “diversity hire” after Molly uses a contest that she won in order to get an interview for the job.
At first, it may seem that Katherine simply hired Molly in response to the fired writer and, for the most part, she did. However, deep down she also knows that the writer was right and along with Molly and the other writers, they aim to turn the show’s ratings around so that she won’t be replaced. Meanwhile, Molly has to deal with a writer’s room that looks down on her because of how she was hired, particularly the lead monologue writer Tom (Reid Scott), a man who is mostly pissed because they passed up his brother for Molly.
Now, I have to admit that the film can, at times, be extremely gooey with its romanticized version of what it’s like to work on a television show. If the “feel good” film is not your bag, then you’ll probably want to avoid this film. For me, though, the characters and the message of the movie along with the non-cynical approach were more than enough to suck me in.
Thompson, in particular, is absolutely fantastic as Katherine. She can be a cutthroat boss and someone that no one wants to cross, but you always feel that there is more underneath the surface. Thompson is great at playing both Katherine’s natural confidence and her extreme vulnerabilities.
She also has great chemistry with Kaling as Molly, another character that I found myself rooting for all the way to the end. Kaling plays Molly as a woman with extreme optimism but also as a woman who doesn’t quite know if she belongs at first. That optimism is needed, though, because she not only has to deal with writers who don’t understand why she’s even in the room, she also has to deal with her overbearing boss that is initially resistant to changing anything.
Eventually, though, these two characters along with the rest of the cast, realize that they need each other. Another aspect that I liked about this film is that none of the characters are perfect, but none of them are totally bad, either. They’re simply human and I felt that they were all real and not just the cliches that you often find in lighter comedies.
I didn’t really know what to expect from this film. The marketing for it has been very light and I had only seen one trailer before going in. I’m thankful that I did go in, though, because this is one comedy that works its magic and also happens to have a thoughtful and relevant message that everyone should check out.