Quick Hit: A feel good film about a trio of women that most of us haven’t heard about, Hidden Figures doesn’t hit any new notes, but plays the song well anyway.
There’s a big knock in the film review circuit for films that are unoriginal. I myself have knocked films points for borrowing ideas heavily from other films, or not giving us a story that isn’t entirely predictable. But the funny thing is, sometimes movies and films come along that you don’t mind nearly as much with their predictability. I know, I know, critics are filling the internet with posts about how there is a massive space between my review of The Space Between Us and everyone else’s. But, that’s because I felt the same way about that film. It didn’t really create any new territory: it just retreaded the paths of those that came before it in a way that particularly hit home for me. I feel the same way about Hidden Figures, a film that was nominated for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (Octavia Spencer), and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Hidden Figures follows three women in the early sixties as they work in different sections of NASA: Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) who is a computer (she does calculations that the engineers saw themselves above doing), Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) who is the supervisor (sort of) of the Colored Computers Group, and Mary Jackson (played by Janelle Monáe) who is attempting to break into the engineering group despite being a woman and being black.
We see these women’s struggles with discrimination, and often pieces of their personal lives (in main character Katherine’s place – it’s struggling with being a widow and learning to trust and love once more). All the women do great jobs in their roles, to the point it’s difficult to pinpoint just who turns in the best performance. Each has at least one scene that is obviously their own, but if I was forced, I’d say that Ms. Monáe turns in the best performance. Often times, she serves as the trio’s spark plug – but it’s only because of the amount of heart that she lends to the role.
However, that’s not to say there aren’t good performances elsewhere. Kevin Costner plays the head of the engineering group that is attempting to send a man into orbit, and he plays it with gum-chewing gusto (If there was an Academy Award for gum-chewing, I don’t think anyone else would even get nominated). He turns in a very good performance despite often times not having much else to do besides glare menacingly around a room and look at numbers. Jim Parson also appears as the lead engineer of the group, and perfectly encapsulates the casual racism that took place in the early 60s. He may be playing a watered down version of Sheldon from The Big Bang, but hey, I don’t mind watching Jason Statham continuing to play the same character, so I’m not going to get sad here.
Most of the camerawork is solid, if unexceptional. The script provides a variety of moments to help break the tension, all while focusing on the race issue and the space race itself. There is a large amount of technical jargon which may bother some viewers. As a person that took more math that I would have liked, this didn’t bother me as I understood some of it. I asked a few friends and people close to me if this bothered them and they said it was of no consequence. So, as I said, the script is good, but a lot of the overall events outside of the space race are a bit forgettable.
This movie came forth at a great time, shortly after Katherine Johnson’s honor of having a building named after her. I love that we have a movie that focuses on people that few people have ever heard of.
Despite the fact that the movie is easy to foresee for even the most intensely charged moments, it’s a bit amazing that director Theodore Melfi was able to squeeze such emotion out of his actresses and scenes. Too often you get lost in the fact that you know what is coming in films like these, which allows you to disenfranchise yourself from what you’re watching. It’s the back and forth between the women’s personal struggles and their work struggles that sells it I think.
Overall, Hidden Figures is a very entertaining movie that I would recommend just about everyone to see. I’m giving it a “B+”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"