I swear this movie utters the word ‘math’ more within two hours than I have in the last two years.
Hidden Figures is a biographical drama written and directed by Theodore Melfi. It stars Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe as Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson respectively, three women working in the West Area’s Computing Room of NASA completely separate from their white colleagues. Hidden Figures follows their stories as they all work towards NASA’s goal in the 1960s to get a man into space.
This is the sort of biopic that Hollywood should be making. Whether its filling a gap in history or introducing individuals who don’t get the glory they deserve to a wider audience, this film is an example of the type of story that Hollywood should be seeking out. Not only is it a great (if typical) tale of overcoming adversity, but it also shines a light on a rather extraordinary set of individuals who contributed to a world-known event.
That praise aside, the film does follow the typical Hollywood conventions of a biopic to the point that almost every beat can be predicted, but its done so well and with a sense of upbeat style that it never feels as laboured or cliche as it would on paper. Director Melfi manages to imbue the film with a strong energy of optimism while still retaining a grounded pragmatic respect for both the source material and the real events themselves.
And as the real people go, the casting director deserves medals for casting these three actresses in the lead roles. All three absolutely sell their personal struggles and endeavours while never appearing overblown or delving into caricature. While Octavia Spencer was (deservedly I might add) the only one nominated for an Oscar, all three honestly are at the very least nomination worthy and are the foundation that the rest of the film is built on. The additional supporting roles by Jim Parsons, Kirsten Dunst, Mahershala Ali and particularly Kevin Costner are all well cast, but the focus rarely strays from Spencer, Henson and Monáe – and rightfully so.
Hidden Figures at its very core may be a relatively standard Hollywood biopic. Its thanks to director Melfi, the three fantastic leads and even the choice of subject matter that it manages to stand on its own as not only a good biopic, but as a wholly entertaining and even uplifting movie. Tropes aside, thank god these are some figures that are no longer hidden.
General Audiences: Highly Recommended
Film Buffs: Highly Recommended