Indie Focus: backstage comedy in ‘Late Night’

Hello! I’m Mark Olsen. Welcome to another edition of your regular field guide to a world of Only Good Movies.

The local repertory screening scene in Los Angeles continues to be among the most exciting in the nation, with lots of great movies to see this month. Before the Leo S. Bing Theater is demolished as part of the controversial plans to redesign the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the last month of film programming will feature the final films by some notable directors. Among those showing are Max Ophuls’ “Lola Montès,” Jean Vigo’s “L’Atalante,” Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Three Colors: Red” and Yasujiro Ozu’s “An Autumn Afternoon.”

The Downtown Independent Theater will be running earlier films from Bong Joon-ho, who recently won the Palme D’Or at Cannes for his new film, “Parasite.” Bong’s 2000 film “Barking Dogs Lie” and 2006 film “The Host” will both be playing in 35 mm from June 14-20.

Also at the Downtown Independent from June 20-23, the inaugural Rom Com Fest will be a celebration of the romantic comedy. Alongside side a lineup of films including “Never Been Kissed,” “How Stella Got Her Groove Back,” “10 Things I Hate About You” and “His Girl Friday,” the festival will feature a selection of new features in competition, as well as a shorts program. Guests announced to participate include Rachel Bloom, June Diane Raphael, Casey Wilson, Kirsten “Kiwi” Smith and Karen McCullah.


The Times has two screening events coming up this week. On Wednesday, June 12, we will be showing “American Woman,” starring Sienna Miller and Christina Hendricks, followed by a Q&A with director Jake Scott. Then on Thursday, June 13, we will show the documentary “Maiden” followed by a Q&A with subject Tracy Edwards and director Alex Holmes. For info and updates, go to

(L-R)- Mindy Kaling and Emma Thompson in a scene from “Late Night.” Credit: Emily Aragones/Amazon St
Mindy Kaling, left, and Emma Thompson in a scene from “Late Night.”
(Emily Aragones / Amazon Studios)

‘Late Night’

Directed by Nisha Ganatra from a script by Mindy Kaling, “Late Night” stars Kaling as a woman who works at a chemical plant who is hired as a writer on a late night talk show because the all-male writing staff desperately needs a woman. And as the long-running show suddenly faces cancellation, its imperious host, played by Emma Thompson, reluctantly turns to her new, untested employee for help. The film is both a charmingly earnest comedy and a deeply knowing treatise on the entertainment industry and the evolving roles of women in culture.


In his review for The Times, Kenneth Turan wrote, “ ‘Late Night’ is a swell romantic comedy of a very particular sort, a film that details the delightful attachment two women have not to any man (or even each other) but to the profession they’re completely devoted to… Because that shared passion is comedy, and because the women are played by Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling, both in tip-top form, ‘Late Night’ is that rare thing: a deft and intelligent entertainment that can touch on serious issues because being funny is something it never forgets to do.”

Mary McNamara interviewed Thompson in a wide-ranging conversation. On making comedy now, the two-time Oscar winner said, “We’re all suffering from existential despair at the moment; I am certainly. So I feel now that that’s where I should put my best efforts — into making things that are funny, things that might have serious intent but funny.”

Reviewing the film for the New York Times, A.O. Scott wrote of the film that, “Rather than scourging the complacency and hypocrisy of television, it subjects the medium to a vigorous exfoliating scrub in the name of feminism and inclusiveness. The humor, though sharp, is cruelty-free. The benefit of the doubt is extended even to the men who have benefited from the old-boy networking that has kept Katherine’s writing staff entirely white and male. They’re not bad guys, just beneficiaries of a rigged system. Kaling’s view of the landscape and its inhabitants — the imperious star, the neurotic writers, the beleaguered producer (Denis O’Hare) — is critical without cynicism or even much anger.”

As part of an essay on the film and interview with Kaling in Film Comment, Devika Girish wrote, “ ‘Late Night’ derives much of its humor (and heart) from its characters’ attempts to navigate the blurring boundaries between their personal and professional lives. But the premise of a late-night talk show allows Kaling to explore these concerns on a much larger scale, with sociocultural, rather than just interpersonal, stakes… It’s the perfect example of a work space where the categories of public and private collide in uneasy ways. But Kaling also embeds her film within a fast-corporatizing TV and entertainment landscape, where these boundaries are being altered ever more radically.”

San Francisco, CA May 22, 2019 Jimmie Fails, left, and Joe Talbot, right pose for a portrait in Dolo
Jimmie Fails, left, and Joe Talbot, of “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” in the city’s Dolores Park.
(David Butow / For The Times)

‘The Last Black Man In San Francisco’

Directed by Joe Talbot, in his feature debut, from a screenplay written by Talbot and Rob Richert, “The Last Black Man In San Francisco” tells the story of a two friends (played by Jimmie Fails and Jonathan Majors) attempting to reclaim the childhood family home of one of them, while they both try to stay connected to a city that is rapidly changing around them. Wistful and poignant, the film is a powerful examination of gentrification, friendship and community.

In his review for The Times, Justin Chang wrote, “A patchwork of impressions, ruminations and unsolved mysteries, ‘The Last Black Man in San Francisco’ teems and even overflows with life and love, some might argue at the cost of narrative focus or momentum. That strikes me as precisely the point. Leisurely in its rhythms and urgently political in its concerns, the movie stands in humble, defiant opposition to the forces that are shaping and homogenizing too much of our own contemporary reality, the impulse to hurry not least among them. You don’t truly know something — a city, a house, a life or a work of art — until you’re willing to meander.”


The Times’ Gerrick D. Kennedy spoke to Fails, Talbot and Majors about the film. As Fails said of some of the film’s inspiration, “The people who made the city what it is, I barely see them anymore. Everyone is gone, pushed out. We’re bitter, we’re jaded, but there’s not much I can do about it… You just feel so disrespected when you see some of these white people who care more about dogs than black people.”

Jen Yamato will have a separate interview with Majors publishing soon.

For the New York Times, Manohla Dargis wrote, “In ‘The Last Black Man in San Francisco,’ the desire for home is at once existential and literal, a matter of self and safety, being and belonging. This is of course part of the story of being black in the United States, which perhaps makes the movie sound like a dirge when it’s more of a reverie. Or, rather, it’s both at once and sometimes one and then the other.”

At Time, Stephanie Zacharek wrote, “It would be correct to call ‘The Last Black Man’ a story about gentrification, but that word hardly captures the movie’s mystery and its heartbeat… This isn’t just a story about displaced communities, it’s about displaced souls, people so connected to history that they never feel quite at home in the present.”

‘Too Late To Die Young’

Written and directed by Dominga Sotomayor, “Too Late To Die Young” is set in Chile in 1990, and intertwines a personal coming-of-age story with a political awakening. Sotomayor became the first woman to win the directing prize at the Locarno Film Festival when the film premiered there last year.

In his review for The Times, Justin Chang said of Sotomayor, “Her achievement here is not to reinvent the coming-of-age narrative so much as recontextualize it, refusing the temptations of solipsism that can sometimes seep into cruel stories of youth… The movie’s tight parameters — it runs under two hours and plays out over a few days in an era now lost to history — allow us to perceive that humanity only in stray glimpses. But those glimpses are all the more compassionate and affecting for being so abbreviated. ‘Too Late to Die Young’ doesn’t pretend to show us everything, which makes it all the more remarkable just how much it sees.

Reviewing the film for, Monica Castillo wrote, “ ‘Too Late to Die Young’ almost has a timeless quality to it, a period unencumbered by outdated tech and dusty cultural references… The story belongs to the kids questioning authority and those who wonder what’s beyond where our parents said we can go. In that sense, ‘Too Late to Die Young’ says just as much about our experiences — our heartbreaks, curiosity and resilience — as it does about this specific chapter in Chile’s history.”


Email me if you have questions, comments or suggestions, and follow me on Twitter: @IndieFocus.

Damian Hernandez in a scene from “Too Late to Die Young.” Credit: KimStim
Demian Hernández in a scene from “Too Late to Die Young.”

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