So I watched Hidden Figures…
About eight months ago I had a guest post on this blog from Dell On Movies. He wrote a stellar article about Why the 2016 remake of Ghostbusters needed to be a hit. To read that post, click here. The crux of the article was that “girls need heroes too”. So I’m going to stop myself here and say that no matter what I say in this review, you need to go watch this movie; especially if you’re a young girl.
Okay, basic plot: In 1961, America and The Soviet Union are in a race to conquer Space. After The Soviets gain a tremendous lead by successfully launching an astronaut into space, the pressure builds on NASA to not only do the same but reach farther into the stars than their Soviet counterparts. Three mathematicians – Katherine Goble (Taraji P. Henson), Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) and Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) – are called to work in various departments to improve America’s odds of winning The Space Race. All three woman face discrimination both racial and sexist in their respective endeavours to achieve success in their departments. Undeterred the three woman (along with others in their various teams) persevere and help NASA to the stars.
I was recently watching a television interview where Taraji P. Henson explained that, when she was in school, there was an unspoken (but universally understood) truth that Math and Science were not meant for girls. She then goes on to explain that if a movie like Hidden Figures had been released in her youth, it might have altered her career choice. That’s why this film and films like it are so important. People need to be able to look out into the world and see others who look like them, sound like them and face the same challenges they do succeed. We all need heroes and films like this give people heroes. You might not be inspired to become a mathematician after seeing this film but the point of the film is to inspire choice. That’s why this film matters and that’s why I’m glad it was such a success.
My favourite thing to come across when researching a film that’s based on true events are the two words, “historical inaccuracies”. These are two words that every biopic should have linked to them. It doesn’t matter how amazing the subject matter is or how inspirational the character is; not every part of their journey is going to be entertaining and, as such, not every part of their journey needs to make it into the movie. I love that this film’s filmmakers made the choice to alter the timing of certain events or sensationalise others because it led to a movie that feels streamlined but still filled with information. That’s one of my favourite things about this film – it has an amazing flow to it and never feels stagnant. The three characters in the film – though facing similar challenges – do not necessarily always work in the same department so the film needed to be streamline in order to cover all three characters’ respective journeys.
The film’s three leads are immensely talented and put in entertaining and powerful performances. Taraji P. Henson is in the fore of this film more than her two co-stars and while Henson does great work I found that she was slightly over her head at times. Chief among these times was the moment where her normally softspoken and reserved character has an emotional outburst criticising the segregated conditions she has to work in. It’s a powerful scene but Henson lacks the quality needed for the scene to reach full poignancy. I wish that scene had been handed to Octavia Spencer’s character becauase Spencer has the class to elevate the scene to the quality it deserved. I was pleasantly surprised with singer, Janelle Monáe’s performance in this film. She’s fiery and has a sharp spirit which perfectly suited her character. Kevin Costner deserves his fair share of praise for veteran and well-measured turn in this film.
A major problem I had with Hidden Figures is that it feels like it falls back on the gravity of its events instead of being a thought-provoking work of cinema. What I mean by that is, the film has a wonderful story; unfortunately this story is, at times, told poorly. There’s a streak of class missing at times but thankfully the events of the story are so hard-hitting that you often don’t notice. I also really didn’t enjoy Jim Parsons as Paul Stafford – an engineer who supervises Katherine and treats her with neither respect nor compassion. It felt like Parsons was doing a watered-down version of his character, Sheldon, on The Big Bang Theory. His performance is just an example of the perpetual lack of quality in the film. It’s good but not quite good enough.
Overall, Hidden Figures is an important film. I think there’s a level of class missing from both the filmmaking and acting but the gravity of the overall story is one that cannot be ignored. This film deserves watching not only to commemorate the unknown heroes featured in the film but also to inspire a new generation of heroes. 7/10