Sunday, February 26, 2017

Hidden Figures

Year: 2016
Director: Theodore Melfi
Cast: Taraji P Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons, Kirsten Dunst

Plot: Based on the true story of Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan, three African American women who made significant contributions to NASA in their space program in the 1960s.

Review: Much like Selma and The Help before it, Hidden Figures tells the story of the struggle for colored folk in America several decades back, and is just as fascinating as those films, if not totally flawless.

The three women, Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan, have all the skills required to excel in their respective assignments, but due to their skin color, are mostly overlooked or underappreciated by their white peers. Johnson is a math genius, a prodigy since she was young, but after she is chosen to compute equations for NASA's space program, she gets sidelined and discriminated against by her colleagues. Jackson is a brilliant engineer, but the rulebook disallows her from applying for an engineering post due to her skin color. Vaughan is doing a supervisor's job but denied the proper post and salary of such a job. And so, the women do whatever they can to stand out and achieve equal respect among their white peers and superiors.

It's actually quite fun and occasionally frustrating to see them struggle with their problems, get a small victory only to get another setback throughout the film. Director Theodore Melfi successfully shows us their plight during racial tension in the 60s, where colored folk have to use their own restrooms, sit at the back of the bus, denied equal pay and even use the same library with white people. A great example of this is when Johnson gives her boss, Al Harrison and her colleagues a piece of her mind when he asks her where she disappears to every now and then due to the fact she has to walk half a mile to use the colored restrooms.

Taraji P Henson is splendid as Johnson, and that above mentioned scene with Kevin Costner as her boss is a standout moment for sure. Octavia Spencer plays Vaughan in a subtle manner, but still retaining some of her street smart comebacks. My favorite though is Janelle Monae, who gives Mary Jackson a nice amount of spunk in her attitude. Costner is also good as the fair but very result oriented boss while Jim Parsons and Kirsten Dunst fill the roles of white folk who discriminate them but eventually learns the error of their ways.

While everyone's acting is spot on, Melfi's storytelling isn't as smooth as it could have been. As the stories of the three women start to take their own course, he struggles to keep a coherent flow as he switches back and forth between their stories too often, which is most evident in the middle third of the film. But overall, I liked how informative the film is, even if some of the facts were altered (it is Hollywood after all).

In the end, Hidden Figures is an inspiring true story that is well acted by its cast. It may not be as memorable as The Help, but deserves to be checked out. (7/10) 

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