Hidden Figures Review: Crowd-Pleasing Progress

Photo Credit:http://www.foxmovies.com/movies/hidden-figures

Hidden Figures is stylistically drab and occasionally overwritten (“At NASA, we all piss the same color,” Kevin Costner interjects into an emotional scene), but it’s also far warmer and accessible than most of what 2016’s awards season has to offer. The film is a genuine crowd-pleaser, taking the remarkable stories of three American heroes (four if you include the late John Glenn, played by Glenn Powell and prominently featured throughout) and assign three great actresses to play them.

The film follows three black women working for NASA in the early 1960s as they fight the system and break barriers to contribute to the scientific achievements of our country at that time. Katherine (Taraji P. Henson) is a math wiz who’s faster at computing than all the boys in the room. Mary (Janelle Monae) aspires to be an engineer, but needs to attend classes at a white school to do so. And Dorothy (Octavia Spencer) unofficially manages all the black women NASA practically shoved into the basement. It’s these ladies’ support for each other and genuine friendship that gives Hidden Figures it’s heart. Henson is the strongest performer of the three, taking the lead as Katherine and given a number of key scenes to promote her own progress as well as everyone else discriminated as she’s been. That said, Spencer continues to be ever-reliable in churning out a charming, emotional performance, while Monae, coming off of Moonlight, continues to show herself off as a talent made as much for the screen as behind the microphone.

Without these three, Hidden Figures would be a generic feel-good film too light in tone and delivery to matter as much as it wants to. This is a film with a sweeping score and a stark divide between the white characters who hate the black women and those who support them. There’s no dissection of racism or sexism through well-thought out characters, just an inspiring fight against those evils. And that’s perfectly fine, even if it doesn’t require the same amount of thought as, say, Moonlight. But these three women’s performances ground and keep Hidden Figures afloat, saving it from all the sap and cheese it occasionally spews (remember the line about the color of piss?). This is a film competent enough beyond those performances to make some waves this awards season, but not one likely to be remembered long after. Grade: B+

By Matt Dougherty

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