As Mindy Kaling’s new comedy Late Night hits our screens this week, I can’t help but wonder whether the whole thing was just an elaborate ruse for the writer and star to be able to meet Emma Thompson. I have great respect for that if so. However it came about, it’s a charming film that also provides a gentle feminist fist pump in the form of a long-standing, female, sixty-year-old chat show host (Thompson) and an Indian “diversity hire” (Kaling) who ends up being the one to give said show a much-needed new lease of life.
Kaling’s character Molly Patel is endearingly optimistic, pinning motivational posters behind her desk and reciting inspirational lines of poetry before entering the office (is it just me who can relate?) The film ends with Molly being awarded a permanent role in her dream job, and she gets a boyfriend out of it too.
Because no film is complete if the heroine ends up single, right?
Don’t get me wrong, I love a happy ending, but the message that’s been coming out of the film industry since the beginning of time is that it ain’t over until everybody is paired up (to a worrying extent in the case of High School Musical).
Sometimes, this just sorta works, as in Amy Schumer’s I Feel Pretty (2018), where the film is built around heroine Renee’s confidence with the opposite sex. But in a tale of two headstrong career women, it’s hard to see the need to give Patel a significant other at all.
It’s like movie producers just can’t help themselves. Even Isn’t It Romantic (2019), which self-defines as the non-rom-com, follows the remarkably predictable formula. And the thing is, as much as I hate myself saying it, this is what I want to see.
Because I’ve been conditioned at every stage from Disney to TV Drama to believe that finding your perfect man (and yes, it has to be a man) is what defines a happy ending.
If Sleeping Beauty can’t be with Prince Charming, it’s not a happy ending.
If Rachel abandons Ross to pursue a career in Paris, it’s not a happy ending.
Seriously, I have friends who were disappointed when Moana and Maui didn’t get together at the end – such is our inability to separate a stable relationship from happiness.
In real life, we know that there’s more than one route to happiness (if we’re getting really into this, I’d also argue that happiness isn’t a destination, but the state of mind you have along the way).
Yet, in the overwhelming majority of cases, that’s not reflected on our screens.
That’s why the final episode of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag was such a breath of fresh air. Given my own hopeless inability to look beyond the popular tropes of our time, it should come as no surprise that I was rooting for Waller-Bridge’s heroine to end up with her hot priest, and I’m sure I wasn’t alone in being disappointed when they went their separate ways.
But the more I think about it, the more perfect it becomes.
Imagine if all of the problems faced by the heroine were resolved simply by getting a boyfriend. That a new relationship would be enough to wipe away the build up of grief, betrayal and injustice that had coloured the past two series.
What we actually see in that final episode is two sisters affirming that the bond they have with each other is more important than what they share with any man, realising that they never really needed them anyway.
Just as the ending of Late Night would have been equally kick ass if Molly had been running the show without her new bf, it’s a far more powerful and empowering ending to think that Fleabag’s nameless heroine is going to be okay on her own.
Could we have more like that, please, Hollywood?