It is easy to see why Hidden Figures has become such a success as of late. It’s the type of film that can cater to people of all shapes and sizes while still showing enough artistry (especially from the actors) to make it feel like something more than it actually is. It also helps that its an optimistic film about space, and those films have not only done really well at the box office as of late (Gravity, Interstellar, The Martian), but more of these types of films deserved to be made considering the lack of attention NASA has received as of late from the powers that run the US government. There are still multiple problems with this film, but what the film does right makes this quite an enjoyable film.
Hidden Figures follows three African-American women as NASA prepares for the Mercury Seven era of the space race. Katherine Johnson (portrayed by Taraji P. Henson) is suddenly asked to calculate landing zones, speed rates and other incredibly important measurements in a community of NASA scientists filled with white males. Mary Jackson (portrayed by Mary Jackson) is trying to find a way to get a better career within NASA by becoming an engineer, a job that an African-American woman has never held before, and Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) is trying to get the raise and promotion that she deserves for leading an entire department of calculators (actual humans before computers revolutionized how we live today) for NASA. The entire plot makes for a very optimistic storyline, but the film does combine all of these plotlines into a single plotline. The problem with this is that the film does spend a lot of time deciding that it would rather follow Katherine’s storyline rather than a more equal combination of the three. It also gives the impression that these three women were extremely close, which was probably not the case in real life.
It also doesn’t help that Theodore Melfi’s direction is rather paint-by-numbers. There is no visual flair to this film, and musician Pharrell Williams’ influence on the film can become a tad tedious with the frequent musical interruptions.
However, when you have a cast as strong as this film does all can be forgiven. Taraji P. Henson makes for a solid core for this film (as long as she’s not being forced to ham it up running back and forth through the sets for comedic relief) and really gets to nail her one big scene. Octavia Spencer (a natural at stealing scenes in ensembles at this point), Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons and a charming Glen Powell round out the rest of the stronger elements of the cast. However, it is Kevin Costner and Janelle Monae, who are the real highlights of this film. Costner was destined to finally nail one of these mentor roles that he has constantly been cast in during his Hollywood comeback, and this role is it. His usual charm works so well here, and some physical ticks he uses with this character really adds a lot of dimension. Meanwhile, Monae delivers a loud (but not-over-the top) performance that shows a great deal of range between her work here and her other acclaimed performance from this year in Moonlight. She’s clearly a talent that I hope remains in the cinematic world rather than the musical one.
Hidden Figures is a bit slight but a strong cast and an optimistic core makes it one to remember.
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